Allergy season has arrived and is the bane of many peoples’ existence this time of year. Seasonal allergies come in two different flavors and the most common form is known as allergic rhinitis which is characterized by the classic symptoms of sinus congestion, runny nose, and post nasal drip. They can also include systemic symptoms with sneezing, watery/itchy eyes, fatigue, drowsiness, and headache.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
Symptoms occur when we breath in particles that our bodies have become sensitized to. Why some people become sensitized and others don’t is unclear, however we know that genetic predisposition and immune system dysregulation are involved. When people become sensitized to a particular allergen, they will form a specific type of antibody called an IgE antibody to that substance. These antibodies attach to cells in the body called mast cells. After the IgE antibodies have formed, every time the body is exposed to that allergen, it will attach to the IgE antibody and trigger release of histamines and other inflammatory substances from mast cells.
The activation of these substances cause allergy symptoms as the body tries to fight off what it considers foreign and bad. Initially symptoms are more sneezing, itching and clear nasal discharge. As the inflammation persists, other types of immune cells are recruited such as neutrophils that cause more sinus congestion and thick yellow/green discharge, which is why it’s important to remember that just because the discharge changes color doesn’t necessarily mean it’s become bacterial.
Causes of Seasonal Allergies
Spring time allergies are mostly caused by tree, ragweed, and grass pollens. Most people know this. What people don’t realize is that the effects of allergens are compounded and that there is a tipping point after which a person will start to have symptoms. Meaning if you can minimize your exposures to what you can control then you will likely have less allergy symptoms.
Molds, dust mites, smoke, insect bites, chlorine in pools, and some ingredients in candy can also cause allergy symptoms. Even though you can’t control what’s in the air, you can control some of these other risk factors. Helpful tips are to make sure to use dust covers on mattresses and pillows and keep the floors clean, keep the windows closed from 5 – 10 am in the morning when pollen is the highest, shower after coming in from outside, don’t use gels in your hair, don’t hang laundry outside to dry, and minimize consumption of sweets and processed carbohydrates during peak allergy season. If you have a history of seasonal allergies, then you should start taking allergy medicines before you even start having symptoms as they are most effective if started early. Lets review some of the common allergy medicines.
Common Seasonal Allergy Medicines
For allergic rhinitis, ask any ENT and they will tell you that the two most effective things you can do are a nasal saline rinse aka netty pot (not a saline spray) and intranasal steroids. Saline rinses are effective because they wash out allergens and irritants and clear post nasal drainage. Intranasal steroids such as Nasocort or Flonase, are very effective for symptoms of allergic rhinitis and multiple studies have demonstrated this. Nasal steroids act locally to reduce inflammation and improve drainage from the nose and decrease congestion. Mucinex can also thin out nasal secretions and improve drainage. Topical decongestants such as Afrin are good to use for symptomatic relief, but can actually make congestion worse when their effect wears off and should not be used more than three days at a time.
For more systemic symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, headache, and fatigue oral decongestants such as Claritin, Zrytec and Allegra can help. These are all slightly different medications and the important thing to remember is that different people respond differently to them so if you aren’t finding relief from one, then try switching to another.
Seasonal Allergy Home Remedies
For those of you who like more alternative medicine, there are some small studies that have shown that acupuncture may be effective in seasonal allergy symptom control and the effects may last longer than using oral decongestants. Some studies on probiotics have also shown benefit with seasonal allergy symptoms, however they are unlikely to treat acute symptoms and are likely more effective for allergy symptom prevention rather than treatment. Quersitin, which is flavonoid found in many vegetables, stops the production and release of histamines, however it’s unclear how great of an effect this has in the human body. It is generally considered safe, however people on other medications should make sure that there is no drug interactions before using this supplement. Vitamin C 2000 mg per day may also have antihistamine properties. It is considered very safe and worth a try in my opinion. There are also many other supplements and alternative medications that you can find on the internet, however many are contraindicated with certain conditions so it is always good to ask your doctor before trying these.
Seasonal allergies, although not life threatening, are very annoying and can cause many days of misery for those who suffer from them. We have many things on the market to combat them and make you feel better, but remember that medications always have side effects, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to eat a healthy diet free of processed foods, stay inside on days when pollen is high and work on balancing your life. That will help alleviate allergy symptoms and many other ailments we suffer from in our busy, exhausting lives. Until next time.
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