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Ah, spring, the time of inspiration. When such wonderful time starts, with temperature rising and everything blooming, many of us are drawn outdoors, in nature. But, some of us are not so happy about it because, for them, spring becomes a synonym for allergies.
For many unlucky spring lovers, this season marks the beginning of allergy season. In other words, runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing.
Why do you constantly sniffle when the temperature starts to rise?
Unfortunately, spring is the time of year for unpleasant and annoying seasonal allergies. With trees blooming, the pollen is released into the atmosphere, and each year, more than 35 million people in America suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, known as hay fever.
The tree pollen season usually starts late-March or mid-May, and grass-pollen late May to July (the cause of 95 percent of hay fever), so you need to get ready.
What is happening in your body when allergies hit? More importantly, what can you do to combat spring allergies and curb the symptoms?
Allergy symptoms may last through summer, depending on what you are allergic to, but, as always, nature offers great solutions you can combat spring allergies, from natural remedies to healthy foods and habits. Furthermore, there are well known over-the-counter medicine.
But, before we start talking about treatments and medications, it’s good to go through the symptoms and causes of spring allergies. Moreover, we should know what’s happening in our body to be able to act accordingly.
Why do we suffer from allergies?
Allergy occurs as a reaction of your body’s immune system. When the body is exposed to different allergens, it forms antibodies (called immunoglobulin) and these antibodies “gather” on cells usually in our eyes, nose, skin and lungs. Allergic reaction is happening the next time you get in contact with a specific allergen – the body reacts and releases the chemicals called histamines. When antibodies attack allergens, histamines trigger itchy eyes, runny nose and other known symptoms of allergic reaction. But why? First, we inherit a certain genetic disposition towards allergies. Therefore, if your parents are allergic, you are likely to be allergic as well. Moreover, while most allergies develop in childhood, some people develop them later, so, in case you have a genetic disposition towards allergies but don’t suffer from allergy yet, you should be extra careful.
However, seasonal allergies aren’t only annoying and unpleasant, they can trigger asthma, which can be very dangerous.
Who are the most common culprits?
To treat an allergy you need to know what causes it. If there is someone in your family who is already suffering from allergies, it’s good to test yourself and do an allergy skin test (a scratch test). The test exposes your skin to small amounts of irritants; the allergy specialist will inject a tiny sample of diluted allergen usually just under the skin of your arm, and if a small red bump occurs, you are allergic to the substance.
Another option to test yourself is the ImmunoCAP assay. It measures a specific protein IgE that shows up in blood test in those who have allergies. However, if the test shows you have this protein in your blood it doesn’t mean you will necessarily develop an allergic reaction.
If you are already suffering from an allergy, but not certain what causes it, you need to get a professional help and identify the culprits. Sometimes, when the allergy season starts, you could even become allergic to certain foods so you need to make sure whether foods are triggering an allergic reaction.
According to the Asthma and Allergy foundation of America, the most common allergy triggers are:
- Tree, grass and weed pollen
- Dust allergens
- Cockroach allergens
- Cat, dog and rodent dander
Tree, grass and weeds release tiny grains into the air that can travel for miles, with a very specific purpose – to fertilize other plants. However, when pollen grains get to someone who is allergic, into his nose, for example, the immune system reacts.
These are the biggest spring allergy culprits:
- Box elder
When it comes to grasses and weeds, very common allergy triggers, you should protect yourself from: fescue, johnson, june, orchard, redtop, salt grass, bermuda, perennial rye, sweet vernal and timothy.
An allergist will help you find the source, but you can also reduce the causes and treat the allergy. The first thing you should do is change some of your daily routines that will help you avoid the triggers (according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology):
Listen to weather reports on radio and television, and in newspapers, this will help you monitor pollen and mold counts.
During midday and the afternoon stay inside to avoid the highest pollen counts.
When the allergy season starts, keep your windows and doors shut at home.
Keep your windows shut in your car.
Allergens (pollen) tend to stick to fabric – this way they are easily deposited on furniture and other surfaces. If you have been working outdoors, take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes.
Wear a filter mask when working outdoors.
Clean the air filters in your home often and other places where pollen can collect, such as bookshelves, vents and other.
Vacuum at least twice a week during the allergy season, but wear a mask because vacuuming can kick up pollen and mold.
Wash bedding at least once a week in hot water – this way you will get rid of dust mites and other allergy triggers.
Those who suffer from grass pollen allergy should avoid playing in fields of tall grass.
Besides grass, mold and pollen, there are other allergy triggers:
Insect bites and stings (in spring and summer)
Chlorine in indoor and outdoor swimming pools
Smoke (campfires in summer)
What are the symptoms of spring allergies and what are the treatments?
However, the severity of an allergy vary across the country and depends on certain climate factors, which can affect how bad your symptoms can be and how long the allergy will last:
Cold nights and warm days are supporting tree, grass and ragweed pollen.
Heat and humidity support the growth of molds.
On the breezy days, allergy symptoms are particularly high.
Rainy days cause the drop in the pollen counts.
A rainy spring can lead to an increase in mold, another common trigger of allergy season.
The symptoms usually include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes and nose
- Dark circles under the eyes
What about the treatments? The first important thing you should do is to stay calm. You should know that waiting for your nose to feel congested, or eyes to redden, is not an option. The common treatment is with over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs; in most cases, over-the-counter remedies are effective for most people. When they don’t work, it’s highly probable they are not taken properly.
Antihistamines work for sore eyes and sneezing, and reduce sneezing and itching, although they don’t do much for nasal congestion. They effectively lower the amount of histamine in the body, but they also need to be taken once a day during the season. However, antihistamines can react with other drugs and they can make you sleepy; you need to tell your pharmacist or doctor what other drugs you are taking. Antihistamines can relieve up to 80% of symptoms, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation America.
Decongestants relieve congestion and swelling by clearing mucus out of the nasal passageways. It‘s common to combine antihistamines and decongestants to enhance the effects of both drugs.
Nasal spray decongestants will help you if you have a seriously nasal congestion. These sprays relieve congestion and help clear clogged nasal passages (usually faster than oral decongestants).
Steroid nasal sprays relieve eye symptoms with a steroid nasal spray. However, you will have to start this treatment at least two weeks before you usually get the symptoms. These sprays also reduce inflammation (usually Nasacort and Flonase). Cromolyn sodium nasal spray helps prevent hay fever in many by stopping the release of histamine.
Leukotriene modifiers work by blocking the inflammation, that is, the chemicals known as leukotrienes. When the body is exposed to allergens, these chemicals are released.
Eye drops are very helpful; they relieve itchy, watery eyes. Antihistamine eye drops reduce the redness, swelling, itchiness, and wateriness that often go hand-in-hand with seasonal allergies. Corticosteroid eyedrops have anti-inflammatory effects, however, these eye drops can cause significant side effects, and you shouldn’t use them without consulting with a doctor.
Remember: you should not use over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestant without talking to your doctor.
For mild seasonal allergies, nasal spray, oral OTC antihistamines and inhalants are very effective, although, antihistamines can lose their effectiveness in a few months. Nasal decongestants are advised to be taken on a short-term basis only. If used for more than a week, certain side effects can occur, such as a disorder, rhinitis medicamentosa. This is a disorder where rebound nasal congestion will occur each time the medication wears off. Oral decongestants can cause many side effects: nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness, an elevation in blood pressure, and heart palpitations. According to one study, sublingual immunotherapy seems to work, although it shouldn’t be considered.
Many people turn to natural remedies, as some remedies help with allergy symptoms. Although they do have their limitations, they can help if you are congested or symptomatic. Studies on the subjects are mixed, but many researchers showed the effectiveness of natural treatments.
Butterbur, the herb from a European shrub, has shown potential for relieving seasonal symptoms. A butterbur extract, called Ze 399, seems to be effective for reducing allergy symptoms, airway inflammation, as the antihistamines Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec. The butterbur extracts are commonly used as a remedy for headaches, fever and nasal congestion, because they block the chemicals that are causing swelling in the nasal passages. You can find it in health stores or drink it as a tea. Several more herbs, spirulina, eyebright, and goldenseal are thought to have benefits for allergy relief as well.
Eucalyptus oil supercharges steam inhalation, opening sinuses and nasal passages. Studies showed that an extract from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Eucalyptus essential oil reduces inflammation, and it’s beneficial for asthma and respiratory problems. You can put some oil in a small bowl and place it somewhere around the house, or rub three drops on your chest.
Stinging nettle is a well-known folk remedy for many common health problems and conditions. The root and leaves are used to treat everything from joint pain to serious health problems. Some people use nettle leaves to treat allergy symptom, although not many research and studies are available to confirm its benefits. However, nettle capsules are used for treating hay fever.
Quercetin, a flavonoid found naturally in onions, apples, and black tea, has great anti-inflammatory properties, and is believed to help relieve the symptoms and block histamines.
Nasal irrigation, a combination of warm water, a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda, may help open sinus passages and clear out mucus. The most common way to do this is to use neti pots (looking like small teapot). Fill the pot with a mixture of salt and warm water, tilt your head to the side, pour the solution in one nostril until it flows out the other, and repeat the process on the opposite side. Use boiled, distilled or sterile water. One study showed this treatment is beneficial for those suffering from hay fever.
Acupuncture might be an unusual treatment, but studies have shown that it is an effective way to relieve symptoms in patients with allergic rhinitis. Stimulating points outside the body initiates certain reactions inside the body, and in turn affects the immune system, and a strong immune system during an allergy season is crucial. A study, published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, showed that acupuncture reduced the symptoms of 26 patients with hay fever, without any side effects.
Tea is a common remedy, regardless of the herb or plant you use. While holding your face over a hot cup may open your nasal passages, peppermint tea works as a decongestant and expectorant. The menthol in the tea can break up mucus, helping clear out your nose and throat. Green tea is a powerful antioxidant, which means it can inhibit allergic reactions. Chamomile tea, on the other hand, can cause side effects in people allergic to ragweed.
Apple cider vinegar helps eliminate runny nose due to rich amount of potassium and break up mucus. However, you should not drink it straight; dilute it with lemon juice or in water.
Spicy foods (chili, wasabi, garlic, ginger, horseradish, Dijon mustard, fenugreek) will certainly open your nasal passages. Many ingredients in spicy foods have a temporary decongestant effect.
Foods rich in vitamin C help reduce the inflammation, as well as the food rich in folic acid. Broccoli, high in vitamin C, is shown to clear out blocked-up sinuses. Around 500 milligrams of vitamin C a day can help ease allergy symptoms, according to researchers. Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit) are rich sources of vitamin C. Kale is rich in carotenoids, which are believed to help in fighting allergy symptoms. Collard greens, like kale, contain carotenoids. Elderberries, natural flu remedies, are rich in antioxidants and help reduce inflammation. Parsley, a diuretic, inhibits the secretion of allergy-inducing histamine. What you eat is equally important for relieving the symptoms and strengthening immune system.
Remember: Herbal remedies can cause side effects. Before you start with a natural treatment, or take any supplement, consult your doctor.
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