The spring warm-up is causing the trees to produce pollen. The blue skies and warm weather can add to outside activity, but can be a problem for those who suffer from allergies. Dr. Richard M. Bass, a professor of otolaryngology, which is a branch of medicine that specializes in the treatment of the nose, ear and throat and related allergies, provides the answers on the symptoms, causes and treatment for those who suffer from allergies.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of our body's immune system to the various normal airborne products of the environment. The body has an immune system to fight off viruses, bacteria, fungus and various parasites, but the immune system can get redirected from fighting off these invaders of the body to the normal environmental substances in the air.
Who gets allergies?
One important factor to note is that an individual has to be susceptible to these environmental substances and there is a genetic makeup for people who have allergies. We often see it in whole families. Mothers and fathers can pass it onto their children.
When it comes to an allergic reaction, first you have to have the genetic makeup and then you have to be exposed to the allergen also called antigen and once you become sensitized to it then the next time you are exposed to it you have the allergic reaction.
What are the different pollens that people should be aware of when it comes to the outdoors?
Only pollens that stay up in the air for a period of time and travel will cause allergies. Some pollen like pine pollen usually is not an issue because it falls right to the ground.
In the spring there is pollen from grasses, trees, such as oak, hickory or mulberry, and even fungal spores.
Later in the spring it is the grasses. If you are cutting grass in the fall or late spring and having a real problem it might not be the grass but could also be from a fungus that grows on the grass. In the fall weeds, such as ragweed, can cause an allergic reaction or what is commonly termed as hay fever.
Also, a worsening of your allergies can be caused by air pollution, such as, the ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide.
Is the pollen count higher this year?
I don't think it is in the Illinois area, but in the southeast it is much worse due to a colder winter and a sudden warm up. We usually see trees pollinating and fungus growth right now, which would be the normal high season for pollen production for trees.
What are allergic symptoms to pollen?
These include sneezing, watery eyes, nasal congestion, and a cough. Sometimes it can also set off an asthmatic response. Symptoms can also include rashes on the body and itching in the nose, eyes and skin.
How prevalent are allergies in the U.S.
Eight to ten percent of adults and nine to ten percent of children will be newly diagnosed with allergies every year. In the U.S. there are 60 million people or 20 percent of the population, which seems to be susceptible to allergies or has an allergic history.
When is pollen at its highest during the day?
Stay indoors from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. because this is when the trees heavily produce pollen. If you go outside this time of day you would need to take a shower and wash your clothes in order to get the pollen off you when you go back indoors.
How to treat allergies from pollen?
The most common treatment is to use antihistamines. There are a lot on the market and many are generic and relatively inexpensive. If you have a stronger reaction to allergies you may have to add nasal steroids or a nasal antihistamines, which would have to be prescribed by a physician.
If you have real problems with your eyes there are antihistamine eye drops, although this takes a prescription. The other alternatives you can use are saline solutions or isotonic buffer saline solutions that you can get at the store.
When should you take an allergy medication?
Depends on your particular allergic reaction. Most medications are now taken once or twice a day and you should take your allergy medication prior to going outside so it builds up in your body beforehand.
What are other ways allergies are treated?
If your allergies persistent and medications are not helping a physician might prescribe allergy shots. In Europe a lot of persistent allergy treatment involves using a sublingual immunotherapy drop. This is involves putting allergy drops under the tongue that then gets absorbed by the body and helps to prevent allergies. It works like a shot but not as fast. Unfortunately in the U.S. health insurance won't pay for these drops at this time.
In very rare circumstances, sometimes a physician will have to give corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs. This is prescribed for an allergic reaction that includes swelling of the mouth, face or hands and can include problems breathing.
Dr. Richard M. Bass is a professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery, specializing in general otolaryngology, otology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Bass has also been in private practice in otolaryngology head and neck surgery in Springfield. His previous appointments included chief of otolaryngology at the U.S. Army Hospital in Ft. Campbell, Ky.
LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION:
THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Pollen tracker
HUFFINGTON POST: Video -- High pollen count
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Pollen at its worst in years in many areas
POLLEN.COM: Pollen weather forecast
USA TODAY: Near-record pollen adds misery to season
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ALLERGY ASTHMA & IMMUNOLOGY: More information
THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Allergy triggers