What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal Allergies occur when your body overreacts to an allergen that it inaccurately identifies as a threat. For someone who experiences allergies, things like pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander are treated like bacteria and viruses. The symptoms this person experiences is the result of your body fighting off these “invaders.”
Once a foreign substance is identified as an allergen, your body releases antibody proteins called Immunoglobulin E – or IgE – which bind them. Subsequently, the proteins travel to mast cells which release chemicals called histamines in your skin, mouth, nose, gut, lungs, or blood. (This is why the most common treatment for allergies are called “antihistamines.”)
Histamines increase blood flow in the area affected by the allergen, causing it to swell, prompting your mucus membranes to activate. The excess mucus causes the common symptoms we are familiar with, such as a stuffy nose, cough, wheezing, and watery eyes.
Common seasonal allergy triggers
Your stuffy nose, watery eyes, cough, sore throat, and fatigue could come in spring or fall, depending on your allergy triggers.
While spring allergies tend to begin as early as February and last through the summer, warmer temperatures can cause these allergy seasons to last longer. As a result of the warmer temperatures, the trees and grasses pollinate earlier, shifitng the time period in which they produce spores. The same principle is applied when we experience mild temperatures into late fall and early winter. And, for those of us who live in warmer climates year-round, you might not experience a season which provides you with respite from these symptoms at all.
The most common seasonal allergy triggers are:
- Spring: tree pollen, grass pollen, and mold.
- Summer: grass and weed (especially ragweed) pollen and mold.
- Fall: ragweed pollen, mold, dust mites.
- Winter: pet dander, dust mites, mold, indoor irritants, holiday décor.
Dust mites are commonly found in pillows, mattresses, box springs, stuffed animals, carpeting, upholstered furniture, and foam rubber bedding.
Grass, tree, and weed pollen can be issues throughout the year in a warm enough climate. These invisible particles are airborne and can travel for miles, sticking to clothing or hair, which can transfer to your furniture or carpeting when those exposed come indoors.
It can be heartbreaking to find out that you or your child is allergic to your pets. Pet allergies are caused by the body’s histamine reaction to the proteins in a pet’s (such as a cat, dog, rabbit, or rodent) skin, saliva, and/or urine.
While most people assume put fur is the cause, it’s actually the proteins found in animal dander, skin flakes, saliva and urine that can cause the allergic reaction. Pet fur can collect pollen, mold spores, and other allergens, so it’s important to keep your pet’s fur clean.
Not all mold causes allergies. Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium are the most common mold triggers.
Mold spores can not only be tracked in from outdoors – for example from wet leaves, moist soil, or rotting wood - but can also be found in upholstered furniture, garbage bins, mattresses, air conditioning units, humidifiers, wallboards, wood, fabric, damp basements, closets, bathrooms, refrigerator drip trays, and even houseplants.
Anyone can be exposed to cockroach bodies, saliva, or droppings if they come into the home through cracks or on greenery brought in from outside. It is important not to dismiss these insects as a possible allergy trigger. Your home might feel clean but once these insects enter your home, they will take advantage of even the tiniest crumbs of food, including bowls of pet food left on the floor.
Other airborne irritants
Other airborne irritants are not necessarily seasonal in nature, but do tend to cause allergies more often in fall and winter, when homes are sealed to keep in heat. Airborne irritants can be sourced from all over your home. For example, perfumed products such those used in hair styling or scented candles, paint, cooking fumes, and cleaning products. Each of these contribute airborne particles into your home environment, causing allergy symptoms. Even car exhaust fumes from garages or smoke from fireplaces and wood burning stoves, can too cause allergic reactions and respiratory distress.
Indoor allergies at work
Seasonal allergy triggers are just as likely at work as they are at home. They can be spread by ventilation systems as well as coworkers. Industrial cleaning supplies and other air pollutants may also cause allergy symptoms.
If your symptoms are severe, you should get tested by your doctor.
Indoor allergies at school
From old furniture and ventilation systems to classmates tracking in allergens from outdoors, children can be exposed to allergy triggers at school.
Yyou may also need to consider speaking to your child’s school administrators about additional support. For example, closing windows on high-pollen days, using HEPA air purifiers, remediating mold, and keeping distance from classroom pets.
Treatment of seasonal allergies
To treat your seaonsal allergies effectively, the first step in treating is understanding your unique triggers. An allergy specialist will use skin or blood tests to determine the root cause, providing you with insight on how best to alleviate your symptoms.
Some of the best ways to prevent allergy symptoms are:
- Avoid spending significant amounts of time outside on high pollen days.
- Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during high pollen days.
- Shower – and have family do the same – when they come in from outside in order to get rid of allergens they track in from outdoors.
- Wash clothing after coming in from outdoors.
- Wear a filter mask when doing yard work such as mowing the lawn or raking leaves.
- Protect your eyes and nose with masks or glasses while outdoors.
- Vacuum your home regularly with a closed system vacuum cleaner.
- Launder linens often and freeze stuffed animals that cannot be washed in warm water.
- Deep clean carpets and wash floors to reduce dander, dust mites, and other triggers.
- Clean the air in your home using an air purifier with HEPA and carbon filters.
- Wash greenery like Christmas trees and plants before you bring them in from outside so they are free of mold and insects.
Allergies in children
According to the FDA, up to 40% of children suffer from seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis).
Babies do not typically suffer from seasonal allergies until the age of 3, although some have reported symptoms in children as young as 12 months. Much like adults, children can suffer from indoor allergens such as mold, dust mites, pet dander, and cockroaches.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies in babies and toddlers include nose and chest congestion, coughing, wheezing, itchy, watery eyes, and fatigue. Signs that children are suffering from allergies are wiping their noses upward (otherwise knowns as the “allergic salute”), breathing through their mouths, and rubbing their noses and eyes.
Guardians should consult a doctor before treating children with medication and always report breathing difficulties to a medical professional.
Know when it is allergies vs. a cold
Colds, flus, and allergies have the following symptoms in common:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
If symptoms occur every few months for only a few days, chances are you are dealing with a cold. Fever and aches and pains are likely to be a flu rather than allergies or a cold, and these tend to occur only once a year.
Sinus pressure can be a sign of allergies, but if that pressure is widespread (under the eyes, on the bride of the nose, and in the cheekbone area and jawline) and accompanied by discolored mucus, you might be dealing with a sinus infection.
Discolored nasal discharge, pain under the eyes, on the bridge of the nose and cheekbones, and around the jawline are indicative of a sinus infection rather than an allergic reaction.
Allergies and quality of life
Seasonal allergies can have a negative effect on a person’s performance at home, school, and work, so it is important to take allergies seriously and be proactive when it comes to identifying, avoiding, and treating them. Particularly in the case of those children whose academic performance is being severly affected by these allergy symptoms.
It is particularly important to see a doctor about your allergy symptoms if they are interfering with sleep. Your bed itself may be a source of your allergy triggers, so keeping it clean and pet-free (if possible) is key to reducing nighttime symptoms.
Sleep is critical to your quality of life and is correlated with learning, alertness during the day, cognitive and emotional functioning, and perception of general health. People who experience allergy symptoms at night are also much more likely to snore, which can result in nonrestorative sleep.
Allergies can not only affect your cognitive performance, rest, and energy levels, but can lead to stress and anxiety.
While preventing and treating allergies requires vigilance, these actions can also drastically improve your quality of life.
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