With the change of each season, many seasonal allergy sufferers find themselves wondering whether it will be a miserable or moderate season. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict how severe allergens will be across the country each season. How an individual reacts to specific allergens, as well as weather, pollution, trees, grass type and other environmental factors all play a big role.
However, as a certified otolaryngologist, or Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Specialist, I can dispel a few myths and mysteries regarding allergy season. Whether you are a regular seasonal allergy sufferer, or you are worried about your first bout with the fitful bursts of pollen, it is best to be informed about how to keep yourself healthy with the turn of the seasons.
Myth #1: I live in the city and there are very few trees, so I won’t be affected by allergies.
Verdict: FALSE. A single ragweed plant can produce one billion granules of pollen that can travel up to 400 miles. Even if you don’t see many plants around you, chances are that the surrounding geography could trigger your allergy reactions, even in an urban area. Additionally, several scientific studies regarding increases of air pollution in urban areas directly link industrialization to greater amounts of allergic respiratory diseases. Therefore, pollutants in the air could indicate a greater likelihood of reactions to allergens. All it takes to trigger an allergic reaction is a small amount of some kind of allergen being inhaled by the body. Whether in a bustling urban area or a rural countryside, experts say it is nearly impossible to fully escape allergens. Unless you live in an extreme climate, pollen is found almost everywhere.
That said, there are more “allergy-friendly” cities than others. Cities located in mountainous areas are considered less allergy-prone than other regions. In comparison, the Southeast and Midwest may be much worse for allergy-sufferers, since they both boast large areas of grass and trees that produce expansive amounts of pollen. Weather also plays a significant role in determining a region’s pollen count. Pollen thrives in moist, humid air, so drier air may be more allergy-friendly. Lastly, just because an area experiences excess rain does not inhibit total pollen count. Pollen cannot flourish during the rain itself, but may be fairly severe in the post-rain moist air.
Myth #2: As long as I stay indoors, I do no have to worry about allergies.
Verdict: FALSE. Allergens are just as prevalent indoors as they are outdoors. Common indoor allergens include pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, and cockroach particles. Pet dander, not pet fur, incites hundreds of thousands of allergic reactions in households across the country every year. Pet dander, by technical definition, has nothing to do with pet fur, but is actually comprised of animal skin cells, saliva or urine. Research shows that about 10 percent of the population may be allergic to animals (American Collage of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or ACAAI) and another 10 percent are allergic to dust mites.
Symptoms of indoor allergies mirror outdoor allergy reactions including sneezing, running nose and asthma. Pet allergies are also common among people who suffer from other allergies. Just because you are inside does not mean you are safe from allergy attacks. There are several ways to prevent indoor allergens from becoming to potent within a home, and those tips can be found here.
Myth #3: Allergies are not that bad and don’t even deserve a sick day!
Verdict: FALSE. Severe allergic rhinitis can be a dreadful experience for anyone suffering from the sneezes, sniffles, sore throats and aching head associated with allergy season. Reports show that the number of workdays lost each year as a result of hay fever totals around 4 million days. According to the ACAAI, allergies are the leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., with more than 50 million Americans suffering from allergies each year. Allergies should not simply be brushed under the rug, as the pain and achiness can sometimes cause people to lose focus and energy. If allergies persist, you should see a doctor to talk about the best remedies. Perennial, or year-round allergies may become so severe that more treatment may be necessary. As a physician, I recommend seeing a doctor and speaking with the expert about alternatives and procedures that could make allergy season more tolerable for you.
Myth #4: Pollen is the only cause of seasonal allergies.
Verdict: FALSE. Allergies cannot be blamed solely on pollen. Seasonal allergies include a wide array of allergens. Molds can sprout up almost anywhere (indoors or outdoors), and their spores float in the air, much like pollen. Dust mites may be found year round indoors and in your home. In short, while pollen plays a large role in seasonal allergies, it cannot be labeled as the only culprit.
Myth #5: The only factors that influence my symptoms are genetic.
Verdict: FALSE. While it is true that genetics play a significant role in determining an individual’s reaction to allergens or overall allergy severity, it is not the only factor. The odds of a child with two allergic parents developing an allergy of his or her own are 70 percent. However, even if someone is born with an allergic tendency or predisposition, it may take several years for sensitivity to a certain allergen to develop, if ever. A person also may become sensitive to an allergen after overexposure or simply due to time. Many physicians, myself included, see cases of adult-onset allergies usually developing somewhere between someone’s twenties or thirties. Though research does not exist that pinpoints why this happens, it is fairly common for the body to suddenly mistake an allergen as an intruder and try to to fight it.
Additionally, living in an area with high concentrations of allergens may eventually change the body’s reactions. Weather and climate in the area directly influence tree, grass and ragweed pollens, making certain populations more susceptible to allergy attacks. For example, pollens tend to thrive in cool nights and warm days, but molds grow quickly in warm, humid places. Doctors are able to perform a skin test to identify specifically which allergens may be causing your reactions.
Myth #6: Medicine helps me to get rid of my allergies.
Verdict: FALSE. Over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicines alleviate or treat symptom, but cannot completely remove one’s natural reaction to allergens in the air. Allergic rhinitis treatment options are avoidance or decreasing your exposure to the irritants. Immunotherapy is another option for reducing your reaction to certain allergy triggers, but is really only considered in more serious cases.
Nasal allergy symptoms can also be intensified by preexisting conditions like asthma and eczema, making OTC medicines less effective. Treating those conditions first may relieve some of the symptoms of nasal allergies.
While some OTC medicines can help alleviate symptoms, serious allergies may need more serious treatment. It is important to understand the details of your allergy reactions—if reactions primarily occur indoors, outdoors, or in certain months—to help manage them. The more information you are able to provide, the more likely it is that a specialist will be able to create a beneficial long-term treatment plan.
Allergy Fast Facts
o You are not alone in your allergy suffering. One in five people in the U.S. has either allergy or asthma symptoms.
o Allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies and hay fever are all nomenclatures for the same thing.
o Some people suffer from allergies year-round. This is called perennial allergic rhinitis and is generally caused by reactions to indoor allergens, according to the ACAAI.
o The most common culprit for allergies is ragweed, however, it is definitely not the only one to be wary of in your environments.
To determine the best plan of action for you, and decide how best to manage your allergy symptoms, ACAAI recommends:
o Monitoring pollen and mold counts in your area weekly or even daily
o Keeping windows and doors shut at home and in your car during heavy allergy seasons
o Taking a shower, washing your hair, or changing your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors
o Wearing a filter-mask when mowing the lawn or doing other outside chores
o Speaking to an allergist or ENT about the best medications and methods for controlling your symptoms
Based on each patient’s allergic reaction types and needs, I recommend certain OTC medicines for regular treatment. Visit DayClear.com to view one of the OTC medicines I highly recommend, especially for customers with intolerances, sensitivities or preexisting conditions. To learn more about my work, or how a local expert can help you find long-term relief from allergies, visit fortworthearandsinus.com.