Spring Allergy Season is Here
Understand and manage your symptoms
Even before warmer days return, spring allergy season is under way. Trees, grasses and weeds have begun releasing pollen into the air as part of their reproductive process, while mold releases tiny spores that ride air currents. Understanding allergies can help you prevent and manage the discomfort.
A Cold or an Allergy?
According to Dr. Michael Ankin, Vice President of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, “If it’s a serious allergy, there’s frequent nose rubbing and eye watering, and eczema sometimes. If you or your child has a cold, you’ll know it. People usually don’t have colds that last more than two weeks.”
Allergies, on the other hand are seasonal, relatively predictable, and can last for much longer. “There’s grass in April and May, a short hiatus in June, ragweed in August and mold year-round, says Dr. Ankin.
“With a true allergy, people produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). So for many people it’s a genetic pre-disposition. Whereas someone who gets a rash or other outcomes may just have a sensitivity and not a true allergy.”
In fact, in people with allergies, the immune system makes IgE antibodies to protect itself against harmless substances. When the body encounters this substance — whether it’s pollen, animal hair or a food — these antibodies attach to it and trigger cells that release chemicals like histamine that cause runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. In other words, with allergies, the immune system that’s meant to protect us is being overprotective.
The Asthma Connection
Like colds and allergies, asthma has no known cure and one can experience similar nose and throat discomfort. However, asthma, which affects 22 million people in the United States, is considered a chronic lung disease rather than a cold virus or an allergy. Asthma sufferers have inflamed airways that cause recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing and mucus.
“We’ve conducted research on asthma, hay fever and other allergies. We know that asthma is an illness that has some allergic triggers, but some asthma sufferers have no allergic component,” explains Dr. Ankin. “If you have hay fever, you’re not necessarily going to get asthma. There are some commonalities, but no one knows the connections yet.”
To make matters worse, a steady stream of new medications and toxins can confuse our bodies. According to Dr. Ankin, aspirin is just one example. “Some people are allergic to aspirin. On the other hand, there are a lot of chemicals in our food that can confuse our immune system. To your system, a dye or a chemical can look like an aspirin. “
Take Action Against Allergies
If you have a runny nose and itchy eyes during the spring, it’s a good bet that you have a seasonal allergy. You can help you physician make the best diagnosis if you keep track of when and where you get symptoms. Your history may be a stronger indication than any physical evidence.
And if you suspect your child has an allergy, your first stop should be a pediatrician, says Dr. Ankin: “They’re very well versed in allergies and can make a determination. The primary reason for seeing an allergist is immunotherapy, a series of allergy shots. But there are other options to explore first.”
“One philosophy is to simply avoid the pollen. It’s hard to avoid the outdoors for long periods. But if a person is really distressed, temporarily staying indoors is best. With allergies, the more it happens, the less provocation it takes to trigger a reaction,” says Dr. Ankin.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Offers Tips on Managing Seasonal Allergies
- Stay indoors on dry windy days and in the morning, when pollen levels are at their highest. Keep windows closed and use an air conditioner. You can find daily pollen, mold and air quality information on most weather Web sites.
- If you must be outdoors, wear a face mask designed to filter pollen.
- Do not dry clothing outdoors.
- Avoid other environmental irritants like insect sprays, tobacco smoke, air pollution, fresh tar or paint.
- Avoid mowing the grass or doing other yard work, if possible.
- Consider over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines as a first line of defense. Your physician can recommend or prescribe oral or nasal decongestants or other medications.