Seasonal allergies typically start in the spring when the trees come into bloom. Thereafter, the season progresses through the summer months with the various grasses and surges again in the fall when weeds and sagebrush pollinate. In contrast, allergies to animal dander, molds and dust can persist year-round and become more severe during the closed-in winter months. Airborne pollens from trees or plants, spores or dust – collectively referred to allergens - enter the body through the upper respiratory tract, particularly the nose, thereby triggering an allergic reaction. Normally, the body’s immune system does not respond to common substances, but for sensitive or allergic individuals, the immune system overacts to these allergens.
An allergic reaction is a complex chain of events, which involve many cells, chemicals and tissues in the body. For individuals affected by allergens, once the immune system has detected an invader, it unleashes a host of chemicals such as histamines and other compounds resulting in localized inflammation leading to swelling of membranes, irritation, itching, drainage and discomfort.
“An allergic disease can develop at any age, and heredity plays a key role in who will develop it,” states the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “If one parent has allergic disease, the estimated chance of a child to develop allergies is about one out of three and up to two out of three if both parents have allergies.”
There are two factors that determine if a person will have allergies: their genetic background and their exposure to allergens. The genetic background provides the potential to develop allergies and the environment provides the allergen trigger. As mentioned, some allergens have a defined season while others have a less defined season.
“An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies – 1 in 5 Americans - including indoor/outdoor, food and drug, latex, insect, skin and eye allergies,” states the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). “Allergy prevalence overall has been increasing since the early 1980s across all age, sex and racial groups.”
Respiratory allergies represent inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the nasal passages and lungs. While allergy symptoms occasionally mimic that of a cold, it is important to note that cold symptoms evolve, but allergy symptoms often strike all at once. While the common cold will typically clear up within a week or two, allergies may drag on. Although there is no magical cure for spring allergies, there are a number of ways to combat them. Over-the-counter antihistamines and/or decongestants can help ease symptoms.
However, if you always get sick at the same time each year, start sneezing, develop a scratchy throat and over-the-counter medications are not providing relief, it might be time to make an appointment with a specialist. A specialist can spot subtle signs of allergies, work to identify the triggers and develop a treatment plan that includes the avoidance of allergic triggers, use of medication to provide relief and even allergy immunotherapy. Untreated or under-treated allergies can be associated with chronic sinusitis, middle ear infections and asthma exacerbations.
Thankfully, science has been steadily improving our ability to combat allergy symptoms and there are now many more treatment options for allergy suffers.