Are You Ready for Seasonal Allergies?
Well hello allergy sufferers! I, like you, struggle every year with allergies. My journey with allergies started when I was a little girl, escalated during my adolescence and early adulthood and is now totally under control. I had standard seasonal and some yearly indoor allergies as a young girl but ended up with allergic fungal sinusitis for most of my adolescence which led to 2 sinus surgeries to remove polyps and immunotherapy to concur my body’s over reaction to the allergens. For years it seemed that pollen, mold and dander were the root of all evil and the cause of my daily misery, but I have good news for you. Allergies are manageable once you know more about them, and they can also change as you age.
Yes, you heard that right. They can change. It is not guaranteed that your allergies will change or go away, but it is known to happen. There is even an old wives tale that could be attributed to this mystery allergy change that says every 7 years we grow into or out of an allergy. Remember, that is a wives tale and is unproven scientifically, but changes in allergies as people age has been documented time and time again. Beware however, adult onset allergies are also a possibility. Adult onset allergies often occurs between the ages of 30-40. Many people in this group will experience allergies for the first time.
I do want to add that I am not a doctor and do not claim to know everything there is to know about allergies. I just want to share with you the things that have given me relief over the years.
What are allergies?
Allergies occur as an overreaction of the immune system to a substance in the environment that is harmless to most people (allergens: pollen, dust mites, pets, mold etc.). The allergic reaction happens when the body creates large amounts of allergen-specific antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) in a response to the viewed threat of the allergen. The IgE antibodies attach to mast cells which trigger the mast cells to produce chemicals like Histamines. The presence of histamine triggers the body to push out the allergens through the nose, eyes and mouth which create inflammation and other allergy systems. The histamines are what actually cause the symptoms that make you feel miserable, but they are the after effect of the reaction itself.
There are several types of allergies, seasonal and year-round allergies and food allergies. I will not be discussing food allergies simply because I have no personal experience with them.
What are the symptoms?
Your allergy symptoms can vary drastically, but can include one or any combination of the following:
Burning, tearing, or itchy eyes
Conjunctivitis (red, swollen eyes)
Itching of the nose, mouth, throat, skin, or any other area
How do you know if it is allergies or a cold?
During the winter I would often struggle with deciding if I was having an allergy or the beginning of a cold. Some symptoms are similar: sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose. An allergy-type runny nose was always different for me than a cold’s runny nose. My nose would run like water – thin and clear. When I had a cold it was the opposite. Additionally, if your symptoms are accompanied with a fever, sore throat, and achiness, then you probably have a cold or infection.
When are seasonal allergens prominent during the year?
This is Zyertec’s allergen reference chart.
Additionally for those folks who have mold allergies,
Outdoor mold is an issue in the heat of the summer (July and August)
Indoor mold is an issue during winter months due to moist conditions indoors coupled with the use of forced heat. Mold thrives in damp warm climates.
Get ready for everything to turn green and yellow. Trees are going to start dropping pollen in just a couple weeks. If you have allergies to tree pollen, buckle up!
The number one thing you should consider if you have allergies is minimizing your exposure. Sure, it’s very difficult when you suffer from seasonal allergies. No one wants to be cooped up inside, but minimizing exposure isn’t just about refraining from going outside, everyone knows that unrealistic. It’s more about keeping your indoor environment more suitable than the outdoor one that is being a pain in your ass. For individuals with year round allergies, allergens are commonly found inside the home which is a different struggle entirely. The following list of suggestions show suggestions for both allergy types.
Monitor pollen counts
Keep your windows closed
Set air-conditioners to re-circulate so as not to introduce allergen infected air
Change air filters monthly (which you should be doing anyway!!!!)
Remove shoes at the door and change your clothes soon after coming indoors (remember you are bringing those things you are allergic to inside on the exterior of your body and clothes)
Shower nightly to rinse pollen from your skin and hair
Use sprays such as pledge to keep dust from kicking up when dusting
Vacuum, don’t sweep. Sweeping kicks dust, dander and other allergens into the air Vacuuming minimizes this effect
Wash bedding in extremely hot water to kill off dust mites
Use special pillow and mattress covers to reduce exposure to dust mites
Opt for hardwood, tile or vinyl when possible
Minimize household humidity using a dehumidifier
Use a mask while doing yard work or cleaning
Use a HEPA air cleaner fan in bedrooms
Think about your allergies. How long do your symptoms last? Different allergy medications work if different ways and determine how helpful they are for your symptoms.
As an example, if you go to a friend’s house and have a reaction to cat dander that has your eyes red itchy and puffy or you find yourself with a runny nose only when the pollen count is up then an antihistamine would be a good option for you. Antihistamines offer great options for short-term relief from allergy symptoms.
First generation antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is a great option and works well, but will make you extremely sleepy. Second generation antihistamines such as Claritin (loratadine), Allergra (fexofenadine), and Zyrtec (cetirizine) are great secondary options if you need it to do the job without the tired groggy after effects. Some individuals find that the second generation medications are not as effective as Benadryl, but they still get the job done. Allergra is known to be the least drowsy, Claritin is long-acting, and Zyrtec is fast acting. The differences are minimal. You will also see the second generation options offered with a “D.” For example Claritin D. These contain a decongestant along with the antihistamine. If you are experiencing symptoms and can still breathe through your nose, you do not need a decongestant, but if your nose it totally stuffed up the decongestant option would be a good option for you.
It is said that these short term drugs should not be used as a long-term daily treatment. When overused the medicine may become ineffective because your body may build up a resistance to the drug. In conclusion, a short term drug should be used a short term solution, not taken more than several days at a time.
For daily allergy sufferers nasal steroids may be a better option. They start making proteins that suppress immune response while also stopping the production of proteins that cause inflammation (such as histamine). These nasal steroids work in a two-fold method to help stop the creation of histamines with an anti-inflammatory to help with the later stages of an allergic reaction. This is the best known maintenance therapy for long-term allergy sufferers.
Most of these are nasal sprays such as Flonase (fluticasone), Nasonex (mometasone), Nasacort (triamcinolone), and Rhinocort Aqua (budesonide) there is also an oral option which is not as effective as the sprays but is great for people with breathing problems or asthma, Singular (montelukast). Additionally, there are several prescription options for nasal steroid sprays. I might add…. Flonase smells like flowers!
You’re probably wondering, why everyone doesn’t use the long-term solution even if they have short term allergies.
Potentially more side effects although they are minimal when taken in the correct dosage (best to consult your doctor)
They take longer to start working – so if you have symptoms from a friend’s animal, this will not be immediately effective
Depending on the severity and type of your allergies, your doctor may suggest immunotherapy which affects the actual allergic condition by helping the body produce less IgE and build long-term tolerance to the allergen. To do this, a tiny amount of the allergen is injected beneath the outer layer of the skin. The amount is slowly increased during the buildup phase until a maintained dose is reached. Shots are generally required 2 times a week until maintenance is reached. Shots continue for about 2-4 years to build the immunity. It is the closest thing to a cure that exists.
Another holistic version of immunotherapy that is often tossed around is eating local honey to expose yourself to allergens found in your area. This may work or it may not. I personally use local honey, but mainly because I like supporting local business. For me it has nothing to do with allergies. My word of advice on this matter is to be careful. If you have an allergy that could cause anaphylaxis, you would not want to knowingly expose yourself to it at all without doctor supervision. That would be silly! Otherwise, a tiny exposure comparable to walking outside may not be a terrible idea.
I hope that these tips and the quick info on the different allergy medications help everyone breathe easier this spring and summer. I don’t know about you but I cannot wait to get outside!