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Skip the Allergies, Not the Fun

Get Relief from Your Allergy Symptoms & Enjoy the Warm Weather

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Seasonal allergic rhinitis, often referred to as hay fever, affects millions of people worldwide. Symptoms in­clude sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose, and itchiness in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes, or ears. These allergic reactions are most commonly caused by pollen and mold spores in the air, which start a chain reaction in the immune system.

Your immune system controls how your body defends itself. For instance, if you have an allergy to pollen, your immune system identifies pollen as an invader, or allergen. Your immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.

Pollen
Tiny grains known as pollen are needed to fertil­ize many kinds of plants. Pollen from plants with colorful flowers, like roses, usually does not cause allergies. These plants rely on insects to transport the pollen for fertilization. However, many plants have flowers that produce powdery pollen grains that are easily spread by wind. These culprits cause allergy symptoms.

Each plant has a period of pollination that does not vary much from year to year. However, the weather can affect the amount of pollen in the air at any time. Seasonal aller­gic rhinitis is often caused by tree pollen in the early spring. During the late spring and early summer, grass pollen often causes symptoms. Late summer and fall hay fever is caused by weed pollen. In warmer places, pollination can be year-round.

During the late spring and early summer,
grass pollen often causes allergy symptoms.

Mold
Molds are tiny fungi related to mushrooms but with­out stems, roots, or leaves. Molds can be almost anywhere, including soil, plants, and rotting wood. Their spores float in the air, much like pollen. Outdoor mold spores begin to increase as temperatures rise in the spring. In the United States, mold spores reach their peak in July in warmer states and October in the colder states. Molds can be found year-round in the South and on the West Coast.

Pollen and Mold Levels
Pollen and mold counts measure the amount of allergens present in the air. The relationship between pollen and mold levels and your hay fever symptoms can be complex. Your symptoms may be affected by recent contact with other allergens, the amount of pollen exposure, and your sensitivity to pollen and mold. Before heading out­side, you can check pollen and mold counts for your area at the National Allergy Bureau’s website, aaaai.org/nab.

Effects of Weather and Location
Hay fever symptoms are often less prominent on rainy, cloudy, or windless days because pollen doesn’t move around during these conditions. Pollen tends to travel more during hot, dry, and windy weather, causing increased allergy symptoms.

Some people think that moving to another area of the country may help to lessen their symptoms. However, many types of pollen (especially grasses) and molds are common to most plant zones, so moving to escape your allergies is not recommended. Also, you are likely to find new allergens to react to in new environments.

Treatment
If your seasonal allergy symptoms are making you miserable, see your doctor to determine which allergens are causing your symptoms. This information will form the basis of a treatment plan to help you feel better. Your per­sonalized plan will include steps to avoid contact with your allergy triggers. Your doctor may also talk to you about medications for temporary relief.

If your symptoms continue or if you have them for many months of the year, your doctor may recommend allergy immunotherapy. Immunotherapy helps your immune system become more resistant to the specific allergen and lessens your symptoms.

There are also some simple steps you can take to limit exposure to the pollen or molds that cause your symptoms:

  • Keep your windows closed at night, and if possible, use air conditioning, which cleans, cools, and dries the air.
  • Try to stay indoors when pollen or mold counts are high. If your symptoms are severe, wear a pollen mask if long periods of exposure are unavoidable. When you return in­doors, take a shower, shampoo your hair, and change clothes.
  • Avoid being responsible for mowing lawns or raking leaves, as this stirs up pollen and molds.
  • Avoid hanging sheets or clothes outside to dry.
  • When traveling by car, keep your windows closed.
  • Take medications as prescribed.
 

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, aaaai.org

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, May/June 2014.