Reduce (and treat ) Seasonal Allergies
Ahh! Spring is the time of year that we normally think of when it comes to seasonal allergies. As the trees start to bloom and the pollen gets airborne, allergy sufferers begin their annual ritual of sniffling and sneezing. Each year, 35 million Americans fall prey to seasonal allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever. Although there is no magical cure for spring allergies, there are a number of ways to combat them, from medication to household habits.
Most springtime allergies are caused by tree pollen, not flowers. The most allergenic trees — such as oak, birch, and maple — have small, or in the case of pine trees, no flowers. Trees that expend energy making beautiful flowers, rather than lots of pollen, know they will attract insects like bees to help them move the allergy-causing pollen from tree to tree. Conversely, the allergenic trees need to produce a lot more pollen to better the chance that wind will blow their pollen to the next tree, to aid their process of reproduction. You can tell when a tree is pollinating by looking for catkins hanging off the branches.
If your mild, cold-like symptoms continue and are unaccompanied by a fever, it might not be a cold at all. Although many people first develop allergies during pre-adolescence, it is nevertheless quite common for people to develop their first spring time allergies post high school or even into their 30s and 40s. Sometimes a change in environment can cause allergies if you have recently moved from the city to the country or vice a versa. The immune system, mistakenly seeing the pollen as foreign invaders, releases antibodies — substances that normally identify and attack bacteria, viruses, and other illness-causing organisms. The antibodies attack the allergens, which leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. Histamines trigger the runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms of allergies.
If you’ve never been formally diagnosed with spring allergies but you notice that your eyes and nose are itchy and runny during the spring months, see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to an allergist for tests. The allergy specialist may do a skin test, which involves injecting a tiny sample of a diluted allergen just under the skin of your arm or back. If you’re allergic to the substance, a small red bump (called a wheal or hive) will form. Another diagnostic option is the radioallergosorbent test or RAST. RAST is a blood test that detects antibody levels to a particular allergen. Just because you are sensitive to a particular allergen on a test, though, doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily start sneezing and coughing when you come into contact with it.
For many people, avoiding allergens and taking over-the-counter medications is enough to ease symptoms. But if your seasonal allergies are still bothersome, don’t give up. A number of other treatments are available for some people, allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy) can be a good option. Also known as desensitization, this treatment involves regular injections containing tiny amounts of the substances that cause your allergies. Over time, these injections reduce the immune system reaction that causes symptoms.