Now that spring has arrived, we are all enjoying the warmer temperatures of the season and spending more time outdoors. With that comes higher pollen counts and an increase in allergic symptoms. Allergic disease affects 50 million Americans and is the 5th most common chronic condition in the United States. Allergic disease can develop at any age and is frequently an inherited trait. If one parent has allergies, the risk of the child developing allergies is 48%, and if both parents have allergies, the risk grows to 70%.
Symptoms of allergic disease are the result of events occurring in the immune system (the body’s defense mechanism against harmful substances). In an allergic individual. the body recognizes allergens (i.e. pollens, pet dander, mold spores, dust mites) as harmful substances and subsequently a cascade of events ensues in an attempt to remove the offending allergen from the body’s tissues and bloodstream. Chemicals such as histamines. are released from special cells in the body producing the classic symptoms of allergic rhinitis (“hay fever”) such as nasal itching, sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and itching or tearing of the eyes. Other conditions associated with allergies include asthma and eczema.
In Arizona, allergies cause severe and prolonged symptoms due to the extended growing seasons. The spring and fall months are typically the seasons when pollen counts are highest and symptoms are most severe. Some of the biggest allergens during this time of year include olive, ash, and mulberry trees, bermuda grass and ragweed. Citrus trees are blamed for symptoms but typically are not a problem as pollination occurs through the “birds and the bees”.
One of the biggest things an allergic individual can do is to avoid offending triggers.
POLLEN: To avoid pollen exposure, keep doors and windows closed and run air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air.
Change air conditioning and furnace filters regularly. Avoid sleeping with bedroom windows open and keep car windows closed. Pollens can become trapped in hair and clothes, so remember that taking a quick shower and changing clothes after being outdoors can be beneficial. Recognize as well that pets trap pollen in their fur after being outdoors so washing your hands after interacting with pets and avoiding touching your eyes is important. Avoid yard work if possible and wear a mask when cutting grass. Air purification systems (such as a HEPA filter) can offer benefit as well. These are best kept in the bedroom as most people spend more hours of the day in the bedroom than any other space in their home. Pollen counts are highest in the late afternoon, so avoid outdoor activities during this time of the day.
PETS: There are no “non·allergenic” cats or dogs. Ideally if a person is allergic to pets, the animals should be eliminated from the home or kept outdoors. If this is not possible, keep pets out of the bedroom and bathe them on a weekly basis to reduce the dander in the home.
DUST MITES: While less of a problem in Arizona due to low humidity. dust mites can be avoided by purchasing special encasements for pillows and mattresses. These can be purchased from on-line allergy supply stores. Bedding should be washed on a weekly basis using hot water rather than warm or cold water. If practical, replace carpets with linoleum, hard wood floors, or tile. Keep the number of pillows and stuffed animals to a minimum.
MOLDS: Molds can be found both inside and outside of the home. Promptly repair any leaks or water damage within the home. Indoor molds are frequently found in the bathroom, basement or other damp areas. Do not use carpet in these areas and watch for mold growth so it can be cleaned promptly. Use an exhaust fan or open windows to remove moisture after showers. Mold can also be found in the soil and on the leaves of houseplants as well as in damp compost piles, therefore wear a mask while raking leaves and keep indoor plants to a minimum.
If avoiding the offending trigger does not manage symptoms, one should seek the advice of an allergist to obtain an accurnle diagnosis, a treatment plan that works, and educational information to help manage symptoms. The allergy specialist may complete skin testing (if appropriate) and discuss treatment options, including the use of medications, such as nasal sprays, antihistamines, or decongestants. Allergy shots, also called “immunotherapy”, are an option and are given to increase ones tolerance to the allergens that provoke symptoms. Be ready for the spring season this year. Remember, the right care can make the difference between suffering with an allergic disease and feeling better.