Skip the Allergies, Not the Fun
Millions of Americans have nasal allergies, commonly known as hay fever. Often fragrant flowers are blamed for the uncomfortable symptoms, yet they are rarely the cause; their pollens are too heavy to be airborne.
Allergy symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to an allergic substance that has entered the body as though it was an unwelcome invader. The immune system will produce special antibodies capable of recognizing the same allergic substance if it enters the body at a later time.
When an allergen reenters the body, the immune system rapidly recognizes it, causing a series of reactions. These reactions often involve tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation, and production of many inflammatory substances, including histamine. Histamine produces common allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal and sinus congestion, headaches, sneezing, scratchy throat, hives, and shortness of breath. Other less common symptoms are balance disturbances; skin irritations, such as eczema; and even respiratory problems, like asthma.
Many common substances can be allergens. Pollens, food, mold, dust, feathers, animal dander, chemicals, drugs (such as penicillin), and environmental pollutants commonly cause many to experience allergic reactions. Your doctor can help determine the substances causing your discomfort.
One of the most significant causes of allergic rhinitis in the United States is ragweed. It begins pollinating in late August and continues until the first frost. Late springtime pollens come from grasses, and early springtime hay fever is most often caused by pollens of trees. Flowering plants rarely cause allergy symptoms.
Reducing Your Exposure
♦ Wear a pollen mask when mowing
grass or cleaning house (most drugstores
♦ Change your air filters in heating and air conditioning systems and vacuum cleaners regularly, or install an air purifier.
♦ Keep windows and doors closed during heavy pollen seasons.
♦ Wipe down pets as they return inside to remove pollen from their fur.
♦ Use saline nasal rinses to cleanse your nose and sinuses of the offending allergens.
♦ Rid your home of sources of mildew.
♦ Try not to allow dander-producing animals into your home and bedroom. However, if you have a pet, ask your doctor for suggestions on how to enjoy your pet while also enjoying a life free of allergies.
♦ Replace feather pillows, wool blankets, and wool clothing with cotton or synthetic materials.
♦ Enclose mattress, box springs, and pillows in a plastic barrier.
♦ Use over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants as needed and as tolerated.
♦ Sleep with the head of the bed tilted upward. Elevating it helps relieve nasal congestion.
♦ Discuss your hay fever and
Certain allergens are present all year long. These include house dust, pet dander, and some foods and chemicals. Symptoms caused by these allergens often worsen in the winter when the house is closed up.
Mold spores also cause allergy problems. Molds are present all year long and grow both outdoors and indoors. Dead leaves and farm areas are common sources for outdoor molds. Indoor plants, old books, bathrooms, and damp areas are common sources of indoor mold growth. Mold is also common in foods.
Allergies are rarely life threatening, but they often cause lost workdays, decreased work efficiency, poor school performance, and a negative effect on quality of life. Considering the millions of dollars spent on anti-allergy medications and the cost of lost work time, allergies cannot be considered a minor problem.
For some allergy fighters, symptoms may be seasonal, but for others, allergy symptoms produce year-round discomfort. Symptom control is most successful when multiple approaches are used simultaneously to manage the allergy. They may include minimizing exposure to allergens, desensitization with allergy shots or drops, and medications. If used properly, medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, saline sprays, and cortisone-type preparations, can be helpful. Even over-the-counter drugs can be beneficial.
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Aside from gathering a detailed history and completing a thorough examination of your ears, nose, throat, and head, your doctor can offer advice on proper environmental control. He or she will also evaluate your sinuses to determine if infection or a structural abnormality (deviated septum, polyps) is contributing to your symptoms.
In addition, your doctor may test to determine the specific allergen that is causing your discomfort and can help you develop a management plan that will help make life more enjoyable. In some cases, allergy shots or allergy drops may be recommended.
Source: American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, entnet.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2012.