Healthy You: Allergies strike early this year
When the idea of spring fever comes to mind, feeling sick during the springtime isn’t usually the first thought. Unfortunately, for millions of allergy sufferers, like myself, the spring season is a dreaded time of the year when every beautiful blooming bud means a sneeze attack.
According to WebMD, the biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen, tiny grains of powder that fertilize other plants via air transportation. When these pollen grains are inhaled by someone with allergies, the immune system overreacts to what it considers a foreign invader.
In the body of a person who has allergies, the immune system mistakes the pollen as a foreign invader and releases antibodies to fight it. Antibodies normally identify and attack bacteria and viruses. In the case of allergy sufferers, the antibodies attack the pollen and release chemicals called histamines into the blood. Thus the culprit of the sneezy, runny nose is identified as the histamines.
Besides having a nose that won’t stop running and making you sneeze, ABC News lists the primary symptoms of spring allergies as including watery eyes, coughing, itchy eyes and nose, nasal congestion, post nasal drip, tearing eyes, and dark circles under the eyes.
For those that also have asthma, they can also experience normal asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. Fatigue and headaches are also possible, but not as common as other primary symptoms.
So if the pollen is what causes the allergies, where does the pollen come from? The most well-known answer is trees. However, there are tons of trees and not every allergy sufferer is allergic to every type of tree pollen.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology list the eleven most common trees that trigger allergies as oak, western red cedar, sycamore, maple, elm, birch, ash, cypress, walnut, hickory, and poplar. Grasses and weeds are also common allergy offenders, but their allergy season usually doesn’t start until summer.
Everyday Health lists another culprit that contributes to allergies: mold, which blooms from spring to fall. Mold spores release seeds called spores into the air that are carried by the wind, much like the pollen of flowering trees.
While molds can be found inside houses, the most abundant mold spores are found in the outside air. Also like trees, mold causes typical allergy symptoms which can make it hard to distinguish between what someone is actually allergic to.
A major aspect to the severity of allergy symptoms is the pollen count, which is a measurement of the amount of allergens in the air in grains per cubic meter. The higher the pollen count, the worse the effects of allergies.
Allergy symptoms are worst on warm, dry, breezy days because pollen easily floats in the air. In contrast, rainy days ease the amount of pollen in the air because the rain washes away the allergens. During the springtime especially, the local weather forecast tells viewers the daily pollen count and the relative severity of the allergies likely to occur.
The Washington Post reports that the spring allergy season doesn’t usually begin until late March or early April. Because of the unusually mild winter, spring has already sprung in mid-March and allergies are already hitting home.
To help combat the possibly long allergy season this year, the best defense is to keep house doors and windows closed and use allergy filters on air vents. Pay attention to the daily report of the pollen count outdoors, and avoid spending extended time outside on days when the pollen counts are high.
Taking a shower and washing clothes after being exposed to pollen for a long period of time will also help keep pollen out of the body’s system. And of course there are over-the-counter antihistamines Claritin or Zyrtec that relieve the typical allergy symptoms.
If all else fails for the more intense allergy sufferers, seek out an allergist or immunologist to prescribe medicine to target those tough to beat allergies and enjoy the true meaning of spring fever.
Stephanie Meadowcroft is a Lifestyles Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com