Spring brings welcome relief from the cool winter months. But for some, it marks the beginning of allergy season and the miserable array of symptoms that accompany it. 35 million people in the U.S. suffer from a condition called allergic rhinitis, or seasonal allergies.
Typical symptoms include itching of the nose, roof of the mouth, pharynx and eyes. Sneezing, and clear watery discharge from the nose soon follows. Headaches and irritability may also be present. Coughing and asthmatic wheezing can develop as the season progresses. Dark circles under the eyes, known as allergic shiners, are a hallmark of the condition.
Hay fever is the common name for seasonal allergies. It is an allergic condition triggered by wind-borne pollens and mold spores. Different pollens are produced during each season. In the early spring, pollens of trees such as oak, western red cedar, elm, maple, alder, ash, hickory, popular and birch are the cause of allergic rhinitis. In the late spring and early summer pollinating grasses including Bermuda, timothy, Johnson, sweet vernal, and orchard are responsible for symptoms. The late summer and fall type is due to weed pollens such as ragweed, sagebrush, tumbleweed, Russian thistle, and English plantain. Weather, rather than seasons, affects the growth of mold spores.
Why do we have hay fever?
When an airborne allergen, known as an antigen, hits a specific IgE antibody receptor on the mast cells in the nose, a chain of events begins. An allergen-antibody union causes the mast cell to degranulate and produce inflammatory mediators including histamine, heparin, leukotrienes, prostaglandins and proteases. An immediate symptomatic response occurs followed by a prolonged persistent late reaction.
Skin tests are useful to determine the offending pollens. Test solutions are made from extracts of inhaled materials and then either placed on the skin and pricked through the extract or injected under the skin. The RAST test is a blood test measuring serum IgE levels to offending pollens and is another method of testing. However, a persons history is the simplest method to indicate the nature of the allergic process and the pollens responsible.
allergies and prevention
- Keep an eye on the weather. Pollen counts are lowest on rainy, cloudy, and windless days. Hot, dry, and windy weather signals greater pollen and mold distribution and thus increased allergy symptoms.
- Avoid or limit activity between 5:00am and 10:00am, when pollen is usually released.
- While indoors and driving, keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on to prevent pollen from drifting into your house or car.
- Avoid moist, shady areas, compost piles, and greenhouses. Molds thrive in these areas.
- Dont linger around freshly mowed lawns, which stir up molds.
- Avoid gardening on warm or windy days
- Dont hang your clothes or sheets out to dry. Pollens and spores may rest on them.
Options include anti-histamines, decongestants, and corticosteroid nasal sprays.
Claritin is a popular anti-histamine that is now available over the counter.
Diet- Know your food allergies and avoid those in order to decrease inflammation in the body
Vitamin-C and Vitamin B3
Botanicals- These can stabilize mast cells to prevent the release of histamine without any side effects
Homeopathy- Plants known to cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies such as eyebright, ragweed, and goldenrod can be used in diluted homeopathic doses to relieve the symptoms of allergies. There are several combination homeopathic products that can be quite effective at relieving symptoms
Hydrotherapy- Daily nasal lavage can keep the nasal passages clear of pollens and reduce the symptoms of hay fever.
Desensitization techniques include making an extract of a specific allergen and placing drops under the tongue in increasing doses. The purpose of this technique is to build up a patients tolerance to an allergen so they no longer react.
Article contributed by Dr. Mariannce Marchese