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Health Matters: ‘Tis the Season…For Allergies, That Is

By Julie A Caucino, DO

Seasonal allergies are nothing to sneeze at, especially for the millions of people in the United States who suffer through the spring and fall with watery eyes, a runny nose, and itchy throat.

And allergies are likely to get worse — or at least last longer — as research shows warmer temperatures are extending the pollen season, causing higher pollen counts and leading to pollen being more allergenic.

However, with the help of an allergist, allergy sufferers can find a treatment approach that brings relief and enables them to manage their allergies all season long.

Pollen Counts

Seasonal allergies typically occur in the spring, summer, and fall, and though they are commonly referred to as rose or hay fever, they have little to do with hay or roses and don’t cause a fever.

In most cases, seasonal allergies are brought on by pollen from trees, grasses, weeds, or ragweed.

Fall, for instance, is ragweed season. Ragweed, which is a wild plant common on the East Coast and in the Midwest, typically blooms and releases pollen from August until the first heavy frost.

Trees on the other hand, usually release their pollen early in the year, sometimes as early as February, followed by grass pollination later in the spring and summer.

Moreover, as the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology notes, mild winter temperatures can cause plants to pollinate early, and a rainy spring can also promote rapid plant growth causing symptoms to last well into the fall.

Though pollen itself is a harmless substance, if you are allergic, your body perceives it as a foreign invader.

In response, your body attacks the invader by producing antibodies that trigger cells to release histamine and other chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.

Some people may be allergic to only one type of pollen, while others may be sensitive to several or all types.

Seasonal allergies are common, affecting more than 24 million people in the U.S., including more than six million children, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Symptoms Can Take a Toll

Symptoms of seasonal allergies can range from mild to severe and usually include:

• Sneezing.
• Congestion.
• Runny nose.
• Itchy, watery, red eyes.
• Cough.
• Itchy nose or roof of the mouth or throat.
• Postnasal drip.
• Fatigue.

Other physical signs may include dark circles under the eyes, known as “allergic shiners,” mouth breathing, and a horizontal crease across the nose caused by rubbing upward, also known as the “allergic salute.”

Additionally, allergies can exacerbate asthma and increase the risk of sinus infections.

Allergy symptoms can take a toll on your quality of life. But before you search for relief in the aisles of your local pharmacy, consider consulting an allergist who can identify your triggers and recommend a treatment plan.

Immunotherapy is an Effective Treatment Option

There are several over-the-counter medications that can help treat allergy symptoms including oral antihistamines, antihistamine nasal sprays, and steroid nasal sprays.

In the past, many allergy medications caused extreme drowsiness, but today’s medications are typically more tolerable and do not, in general, have significant side effects.

It is important to note though, that if used incorrectly, certain nasal sprays can cause irritation and other complications. To avoid issues, users should be sure to follow their doctor’s instructions.

Some medications are best used every day, while others can be used intermittently when symptoms are most troublesome. For people with a history of seasonal allergies, taking medications to alleviate symptoms before they are expected to begin can decrease severity.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, one of the most effective ways to treat seasonal allergies linked to pollen is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves a series of injections that expose you over time to gradual increments of your allergen, helping you to build up a tolerance and ultimately alleviating your symptoms.

Immunotherapy should be administered in a doctor’s office with a doctor present to address any side effects.

Tips for Surviving the Season

In addition to working with an allergist to help treat and manage your allergies, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology offers these tips for surviving allergy season:

• Know which pollens you are sensitive to and when levels are highest. Pollens tend to be at their highest levels in the morning.
• Monitor pollen counts in your area and limit outdoor time when counts are high. You can find pollen counts online and in some newspapers. Some radio and television stations may also report pollen counts during allergy season and there are a variety of mobile apps that track counts as well.
• Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during allergy season.
• Take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors.
• Be aware of climate factors that can worsen your symptoms. For instance, on warm, windy days, pollen counts surge. Rain washes pollen away, but pollen counts can soar after a rainfall.

If you experience allergy symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, it may be time to see an allergist. With appropriate treatment and management, you can stop sneezing and instead smell the roses.

To find a physician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 888-742-7496, or visit www.princetonhcs.org.

Julie A. Caucino, DO, is board certified in allergy and immunology and is a member of the Medical Staff at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.

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