Signs of spring are showing up all around us. With trees budding, latent grasses starting to turn green and the flowers beginning to bloom into a beautiful array of colors, the beauties of springtime are coming to life. For many this is a welcome relief from the cold temperatures, snow and ice. However, for some people, this is the worst time of the year because their seasonal allergies become active, causing significant health symptoms. For others, the fall is a difficult time because their allergies, which have been latent all year, become active with a vengeance. Seasonal allergies, like other allergies, develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment (triggers) that causes no problem in most people.
In many parts of the United States, spring allergies begin in February and last until early summer. Tree pollination begins earliest in the year followed by grass pollination in the spring and summer and ragweed in the late summer and fall. In tropical climates, however, grass may pollinate throughout a good portion of the year. Mild winter temperatures can cause plants to pollinate early and a rainy spring can promote rapid plant growth and lead to an increase in mold, resulting in symptoms that can last well into the fall. The most common culprit for fall allergies is ragweed, a plant that grows wild almost everywhere, but especially in the East Coast area and Midwest. It blooms and releases pollen from August to November. In many areas of the U.S., ragweed pollen levels are highest in early to mid-September. Several factors can influence the timing and severity of seasonal allergy symptoms. For example, tree, grass and ragweed pollens thrive during cool nights and warm days. Mold grows quickly in heat and high humidity. Pollen levels tend to peak in the morning hours. While rain washes pollen away, its levels tend to soar afterwards. When the day is windy and warm, pollen counts increase.
Typical seasonal allergy symptoms may include itchy eyes, sometimes swelling of the eyelids, sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue. Complications may include sinus infection and exacerbation of asthma.
There are several things one may do to avoid these allergy symptoms. Monitor the pollen counts on the TV weather reports and/or in the newspaper during allergy season. This information can help you take steps to avoid exposure. Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during allergy season. When doing needed chores outdoors, such as mowing the lawn, wear an appropriate-rated filter mask. Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after doing outdoor chores. If symptoms develop, they can usually be controlled with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, which block histamine, a major substance that causes the allergy symptoms. These may include Benadryl (may cause drowsiness) or newer antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin) or fexofenadine (Allegra), neither of which causes drowsiness. If these do not work for you, you may need to see an allergy physician.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
– John W. Downing, Jr., M.D.