Stravinsky had other things in mind when he wrote, “The Rites of Spring.” For many, however, the rites of spring (and summer and fall) includes sneezing, nasal congestion and eye itching.
These symptoms, often called “hay fever,” are seasonal allergies due to the reproductive cycle of plants and mold, which results in the dissemination of pollens and spores in the atmosphere.
Allergies are, in a sense, an over-reaction of the body to foreign substances, which are perceived by the body as being potentially harmful.
Allergies vary from being a mild nuisance to disabling with extreme itching of the nose and/or eyes, roof of the mouth, throat and ears. They often can involve great fatigue due either to the hay fever itself or medications taken for relief and can be associated with other respiratory illnesses, such as recurrent sinus and ear infections as well as asthma.
If symptoms are mild, they may be relieved by taking over-the-counter antihistamines. Some antihistamines make many people sleepy and may not be tolerated or may be ineffective. Antihistamines are best used as preventatives — that is, antihistamines are most effective if used in anticipation of symptoms rather than after symptoms have begun. The newer non-sedating antihistamines, nasal sprays that contain weak anti-inflammatory agents and drugs that block the release of histamine and similar chemicals, are now available. These can be used safely under medical supervision for prolonged periods of time with virtually no side effects.
If symptoms are severe, the cause of the allergies should be determined with the aim of eliminating sources of allergens where possible and, if necessary, immunizing against the non-avoidable allergens to decrease the body’s sensitivity. An evaluation should involve a thorough history and physical examination, and allergy tests (usually “skin tests”) for detecting allergic antibody. Although allergy blood tests are available, unfortunately they still are less sensitive and less revealing than skin tests. Because of this and the fact that they are less cost-effective, skin testing is preferred to the blood tests by the vast majority of knowledgeable allergists certified as experts in this field by The American Board of Allergy and Immunology.
Simple procedures for hay fever sufferers to do for themselves:
• Keep the windows in the bedroom closed overnight to reduce overnight pollen and mold exposure
• Keep clothing used for gardening or playing outdoors during the day out of the bedroom at night and shower and shampoo at night, thereby minimizing pollen and mold exposure in the bedroom. (The average person spends a third of his or her life in the bedroom!)
• Air conditioning is a useful device to filter pollens and molds and decreases exposure to these allergens.
• Remember that exposure to indoor allergens and irritants ordinarily tolerated the rest of the year may greatly intensify symptoms from exposure to the seasonal pollen and mold allergens, and avoidance of these substances during the hay fever season is helpful in diminishing symptoms. This is particularly true of animals, which not only can induce symptoms themselves but carry pollens and molds indoors as well. Consequently, it is especially important to keep animals out of the bedroom in particular and out of the house as much as possible.
Finally, the impact of allergies on function at school and at work and on general well-being, including fatigue and irritability, should not be underestimated. Help is available, and there is no reason to suffer!
Dr. Michael McCormick, is certified by the American Board of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. He specializes in the diagnosis and management of asthma and allergy for adults and children through Alpine Allergy and Asthma Associates, Inc. He can be reached at 530-273-6530.
“Allergies vary from being a mild nuisance to disabling...”