Allergies can be truly miserable. Whether you suffer from seasonal allergies like hay fever, or you have allergic reactions to things you eat or touch, the sneezing, watery eyes, skin rashes, hives, and other symptoms caused by allergens can be a lot to bear.
Allergies can be more than a simple inconvenience—for some they can be debilitating, reducing quality of life and causing lost time at work.This article will focus on seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever), how they affect the body, and what treatments are available to curb the suffering allergies can cause.
Most allergies are the result of a “false alarm” reaction by the immune system, which sees a harmless substance like dust, pollen, mold, or certain foods (e.g. strawberries, peanuts) as harmful. The immune system produces antibodies that “attack” the allergen, resulting in symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, wheezing, itchy rashes, and other symptoms. In severe cases, allergic reactions can be life threatening.
Symptoms of Hay Fever:
Complications of Seasonal
- Nasal congestion, stuffy or runny nose
- Watery Eyes
- Scratchy or sore throat
- Cough from postnasal drip
Complications of Seasonal Allergies
Most of us think of allergies as just a nuisance, but for some they can lead to chronic conditions that can significantly diminish quality of life, including:
One of the most commonly reported chronic conditions related to allergies,
sinusitis is caused by inflammation or infection in the cavities behind the
nose. The congestion sinusitis causes can be extremely uncomfortable, causing
pain and pressure over the eyes. Extended bouts of hay fever increases a
person’s likelihood of developing sinusitis
- Asthma: A serious condition, asthma restricts or blocks the airways causing wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing, and can severely impair breathing. The majority of people with asthma also have allergies, but it’s unclear to what extent allergies trigger asthma attacks, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What Am I Allergic
Virtually anything can be an allergen, from pollen and weeds,
to cat and dog dander, to dust, mold, and even cockroaches. The best way to determine
what you’re allergic to is visit your doctor and ask for a skin allergy test.
Your doctor will start by asking about your home and work
environments, your eating habits, and your family medical history. He or she
specialized medical equipment including a skin allergy kit. to prick the skin slightly to
allow common allergens like grass, pollen, and mold to enter the outer layer.
It generally takes around 15 to 20 minutes for your body to show signs of a
reaction, such as hives or redness and swelling at the test site. The doctor
may test a dozen or more potential allergens, which will help reveal what
you’re reacting to.
Hay Fever Management and Treatment
Medications can help you manage your symptoms, but the best way to protect yourself is to avoid exposure to allergens as much as possible.
- Stay inside as much as possible when pollen counts are highest; this is usually during the midmorning or early evening, but can vary according to the type of pollen and wind levels.
- Wear a pollen mask when gardening, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, etc., and take an allergy medication beforehand.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes, which couldworsen your symptoms.
- Don’t hang clothes out to dry, as pollen can collect on wet clothes; use a dryer or hang clothes up inside, instead.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses outside to avoid pollen from getting into your eyes.
- Avoid using window fans, which can draw outdoor allergens inside.
- Keep windows closed and use an air conditioner/heater when at home and when driving. Make sure to regularly change your air conditioning filters. Specialized HEPA filters may help.
- Keep bathrooms clean to limit exposure to mold.
- Use a dehumidifier if you live in a humid area, to prevent mold growth, especially in damp areas like bathrooms and the basement
- Wash bedding frequently in hot water if you’re allergic to dust mites, and use mite-proof covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses.
If you have pet allergies, wash your hands immediately after petting any animal. If you have an indoor pet at home, keep it out of your bedroom as much as possible so you are not exposed to dander while you sleep. Replacing carpeting with hardwood, tile, or linoleum can help reduce problems caused by pet allergies, as carpets can trap dander.
Allergy Medications and Other Treatments
- Over-the-Counter (OTC) and Prescription Medications: There are dozens of OTC and prescription medications for treating hay fever. These include antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids. Antihistamines counter the effects of histamines, the chemicals that are released in response to an allergic reaction. While other chemicals are also involved in an allergic reaction, histamine is the primary cause of symptoms. Some antihistamines may cause drowsiness, so check with your doctor before taking these drugs—even OTC varieties. Corticosteroids are one of the most effective classes of drugs for treating allergies. Intranasal corticosteroids are inhaled, which helps people avoid the side effects that can occur from steroids taken orally or by injection. Oral decongestants can also help relieve allergy symptoms, but do not block histamine.
- Immunotherapy: Allergy shots are one form of immunotherapy, but require a long-term commitment. Allergy shot therapy generally lasts for three to five years and consists of a series of injections of a diluted allergy extract. The shots help the body build resistance to the effects of the allergen and can help reduce the intensity of symptoms. Another form of immunotherapy involves the use of sublingual tablets. The under-the-tongue, dissolvable tablets are taken several months before allergy season begins. Treatment can last for up to three years. Only certain allergens can be effectively treated with sublingual tablets, to date, but it looks to be a promising allergy treatment for a broader variety of allergens in the future.
Spotlight on Food Allergies
Just eight foods account for about 90 percent of all food-related allergic reactions, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. They are:
- Tree Nuts
Food allergies commonly cause upset stomach, vomiting, hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, dizziness, and other symptoms. Food allergies can be potentially dangerous, causing a person’s tongue to swell, or even sending them into anaphylactic shock.
The most effective treatment for food allergies is avoidance. Scientists and medical professionals are still trying to understand why the immune system responds the way it does in those with food allergies. As with hay fever, your doctor may use an allergy kit to perform skin-prick tests and/or order blood tests to determine which foods you’re allergic to.
A Link between Gut Bacteria and Allergies?
Scientists have been uncovering possible links between intestinal microbes and allergies, in recent years. Although the science is still emerging, what we know with certainty is that our gut microbes have been evolving with us for many thousands of years, and antibiotics and other substances can dramatically reduce or eliminate some species of helpful gut bacteria. This could lead to imbalances in the gut that trigger the immune system to overreact to environmental agents like pollen and dust, and certain foods. The science is still out, but it’s possible that boosting/restoring certain gut microbes with probiotics could one day be an effective treatment for some allergies.
Seasonal allergies can be very uncomfortable and can lead to additional problems like sinusitis. That’s why it’s so important to see your doctor or an allergist,to begin a treatment program as soon as possible. An allergy testing kit will help your doctor determine what you’re allergic to so you can start to get relief.