Each year with the change in seasons we bring out clothes that we have put away, begin to choose foods that are currently plentiful and growing, and delight in new weather that undoubtedly changes our attitudes and behaviors. Differences in temperatures and types of precipitation also mean changes in allergy triggers that some of us experience with seasonal changes. Plants have certain pollination periods and growth of mold spores, and by knowing what types of changes are taking place and when to expect these changes, we can better understand our own allergic reactions and how to prepare for them.
Allergic rhinitis causes symptoms that affect the nose. When a person breathes in an allergen such as pollen, dust, mold from plants (trees, grasses, weeds), the allergen will trigger an allergic reaction such as an itchy nose, mouth, eyes, or skin; sneezing; runny nose; watery eyes; and even problems with smell. These in turn may lead to coughing, stuffy nose, dark circles or puffiness under the eyes, clogged ears, decreased sense of smell. Fatigue, irritability, and headache may often result from allergic reactions as well. The immune system which routinely defends the body against these normally harmless substances will attack them as a threat to the body and create these allergic reactions.
Allergies often run in families. When parents or other family members are allergic to pollens, and especially mothers in particular, it is highly likely that some or all of the children will develop allergies. Some people outgrow allergies as their immune systems become less sensitive to the offending trigger, but many will have the allergy most of their lives.
Tests for Allergies
A physical exam and interview are necessary for your healthcare provider to determine if the symptoms vary by season, time of day, or by exposure to particular allergens or pets. Allergy testing is performed on the skin, exposing it to different types of triggers and checking to see how the skin reacts to these triggers. If you are not able to have skin testing, there are also special blood tests (called RAST tests) that can measure the levels of substances related to allergies.
Seasons for Allergies
Although certain types of drugs may be used for allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the triggers that cause the symptoms. In the spring of the year, tree pollen tends to be the worst culprit for allergies. Certain day will be worse than others as the pollen counts tend to be higher if the previous winter was especially wet or mild. Warm spring days cause more pollination, and windy days cause it be dispersed at a greater rate.
During the summer months, grass pollens are higher in warm weather and grasses can also pollinate more than once during the season. If you have a grass allergy, it may be wise to cover up as much as possible when going outdoors and change clothes and shower afterward to remove any residual pollen that may have gotten on your body.
Ragweed is the offending trigger in the fall, with more than 75 percent of people with allergies being affecting by ragweed pollen. Rainy and foggy days are good for those with fall allergies because the moisture helps to keep the pollen from becoming airborne. However, the rain also aids the growth of mold spores which is also a common fall trigger to allergy. Outdoor mold is at its peak in September and October when it is raining.
Winter is usually the best time of year for those with allergies. Plants tend to go dormant when there is a solid freeze. However if you are one of the unlucky people who has an allergic reaction to non-seasonal irritants such as dust mites, animal dander, or indoor molds and mildew, these types of allergens cause problems in the winter when everyone is indoors and have the windows and doors closed.
Treatment of Allergy Symptoms
Treatments for allergic rhinitis include oral or nasal spray antihistamines which can be purchased without a prescription. Some may cause drowsiness and should be used with caution as far as driving. Corticosteroids are very effective for allergy symptoms, but are best when used for short durations. They are generally safe for adults and children. Decongestants may be used for nasal decongestion but should not be used longer than three days.
Allergy shots are sometimes prescribed for hard-to-control symptoms. These may help the body adjust to the pollen (irritant) that is causing a reaction. There is also sublingual (under the tongue) medicine for allergies to ragweed and grass.
Nasal washes with saline solution can be used to remove mucus from the nose as a maintenance-type of treatment.