story by Donna Tracy, Communication Coordinator, HopeHealth
When the world turns yellow, you know allergy season is here. Ironically, the pine pollen that coats cars, lawns, and everything else, is not typically the culprit of the itchy eyes, sneezes, coughs, and general misery that allergy and asthma sufferers endure each spring. However, there are dozens of trees, grasses, and weeds that pollenate our air at the same time as the sticky, grainy, yellow pollen that blankets most of our region.
It is these pollens that are the microscopic irritants that invade our respiratory system and turn a beautiful spring into more than just a headache.
“Pollen can be carried great distances though the air, and being that pollen is very fine, it is easily inhaled as it comes in contact with our respiratory tract which includes the nose, mouth and nasal passageways,” said Dr. Krista Kozacki, a primary care physician at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. They invade our airways and our body reacts by releasing a chemical called histamine. Histamine is part of the body’s defense system and works to remove allergens from the areas affected. “The job of the histamine is to help the body get rid of whatever is bothering it. In this case the trigger is an allergen or “pollen,” she added.
If that area is your nose, for example, the histamine makes your body produce more mucus to filter the allergens and prevent them from getting into your airway. So the pollen is the trigger, but the body’s histamine response to eliminate or remove the trigger is what causes the nasal stuffiness, runny nose, and the itching of the eyes and nose, Dr. Kozacki explained. “Our immune system is beginning the battle against the pollen.”
The severity of allergy symptoms varies. They can be mild, causing a few sniffles, itchy eyes, and a little discomfort. They can be debilitating, with severe reactions such as rashes, hives, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, asthma attacks, and even death.
Allergens especially impact those with asthma or other upper respiratory conditions and can cause an increase in asthma symptoms. Asthma is the leading chronic disease in children, and, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 11.5 million people with asthma, including nearly 3 million children, had one or more asthma episodes or attacks in 2015. Recent statistics indicate that 53% of children with asthma will have an attack per year.
Nasal Congestion: Histamine create inflammation in your nose causing swelling and congestion. This can result in trouble breathing, especially when lying down. Congestion is often one of the first allergy symptoms to appear.
Runny Nose: Mucus in your nose is normal, but histamine reactions to an allergen can increase mucus production and cause a runny nose.
Sneezing: Sneezing helps remove irritants such as pollen and mold spores from your nose.
Itchy nose and eyes: An itchy nose or itchy or watery eyes is histamine at work!
Avoid the Triggers: One of the best ways to treat allergies is to simply minimize exposure to them when possible.
• Wear a protective mask when gardening or doing yard work.
• Use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in air conditioners to trap pollen spores and change them often.
• Wash your hair before going to bed to avoid pollen transfer to your pillowcase.
• Pay attention to pollen accounts: counts are typically higher on hot, windy, sunny days and lower on cool days without much wind.
Your primary care doctor or allergist can recommend a variety of medications to improve your seasonal allergies. Some, including many approved for children, are available over-the-counter from your pharmacist. Options include:
• Saline nose spray – can be used throughout the day to help flush out pollen triggers in the nasal passageway.
• Eye drops – can help itchy eyes.
• Topical nasal sprays – these contain prescription medications called corticosteroids that help reduce the inflammation in the lining of the nose and are typically used daily during allergy season.
• Oral antihistamines – available over the counter in generic (loratadine) and name-brand versions. Check with your primary care provider to make sure the medication will not interfere with other medical conditions that you have. Be aware that over-the-counter allergy options often include a decongestant that may elevate blood pressure and heart rate.
• Immunotherapy (allergy shots) – tiny amounts of the allergen are injected over time to stimulate the immune system.
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