Managing Your Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
With spring just around the corner, and trees and plants beginning to bloom, are you ready for the sneezing, wheezing, and itchy eyes? While there are a lot of factors that can’t be controlled, Pollen.com and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation have tips that can make the season more bearable.
More than 35 million Americans suffer from allergy symptoms. An allergy is a heightened sensitivity to a foreign substance, called an allergen. Normally, the immune system wouldn’t react to a harmless substance, such as pollen, dust, or mold. However, in those with seasonal allergies (commonly called “hay fever”), the immune system overreacts and produces histamines and other chemicals to fight the invader.
Allergies appear to have a genetic component. Children of people with seasonal allergies have a greater likelihood of having them also. Most people develop allergies before the age of 20.
Allergies to tree pollens tend to strike more in late winter and early spring while grass allergies are more common spring through summer. Ragweed is the most common allergen in the fall.
When pollen counts are high, it is best to stay indoors if possible. Pollen.com offers a 4-Day weather and pollen count may that can be created for a specific location. Pollen counts tend to peak between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. each day.
There is a variety of both over the counter and prescription medications that can help those with seasonal allergies. Most OTC medications are antihistamines such as Benadryl and Tavist. These can cause drowsiness and dry mouth. Nasal decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine may help relieve the stuffy nose that come with allergies, but it will not help sneezing. Allergy shots may be necessary for those with severe reactions.
Dr. Mary Hardy of the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says that nature-based products can be useful for mild allergies and may help more severe allergies when used in conjunction with standard medical treatments. One such herbal product that has been studied is called butterbur (Petasites hybridus). A study from the British Medical Journal found that one tablet of butterbur four times daily was as effective as an antihistamine in controlling seasonal allergy symptoms. Remember not to add any herbal product to a medicine regime unless first approved by an allergist.
Some naturopathic doctors believe that certain nutrients may be helpful in easing symptoms. The flavonoid quercetin may control the release of histamine that initiates the allergic response. Foods rich in quercetin include capers, apples, tea, red onion, red grapes, citrus fruits, tomato, broccoli and some berries. The herb Nettle also contains quercetin.
Other changes to the diet may also be useful. Those allergic to weed pollen, especially ragweed, should avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, and sunflower seeds, as these plants belong to the same family. Herbal products with chamomile and Echinacea should also be avoided.
In a small study in the journal American Journal of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture gave relief to a small group of season allergy patients without side effects. Acupuncture is based on the idea that stimulating points outside the body can initiate a reaction in the immune system, where the allergic reaction begins.
Should you move?
If allergies are severe, and you have the flexibility, some areas of the country may be better suited for those who suffer. Desert climates, Arizona and Nevada for example, tend to have fewer pollen-producing plants. Mountainous areas tend to have little weed pollen, but they do have considerable amounts of tree pollen. Areas of the Pacific Northwest have a smaller amount of ragweed, but does have other tree and grass pollens.
Weather and location makes a difference as well. According to today’s map at Pollen.com, the worst cities for allergy sufferers are in the south: Oklahoma City OK, Yuma AZ, West Palm Beach FL, Fort Smith AR, and Laredo TX. Northern regions are still feeling the colder weather, and therefore have fewer traveling pollens. The best cities today are Duluth MN, Des Moines IA, Aberdeen SD, Fargo ND, and Grand Forks ND.
Unfortunately, pollen grains can travel over long distances, so the allergen cannot be completely avoided. Also, researchers have seen that if people relocate to avoid one particular allergen, they may acquire a sensitivity to another type within the same family.