Seasonal Allergies: 8 Things Doctors Want You to Know
- Neither ‘Hay’ Nor ‘Fever’: What Allergists Say About Seasonal AllergiesIf you suffer periodically from itchy, watery eyes; nasal congestion; and general malaise, you might have seasonal allergies. These allergies occur when your body’s immune system overreacts to pollen (proteins) in the air you breathe. More than a nuisance, seasonal allergies cause people to miss more than 6 million school and work days each year. The good news? Some home remedies may be surprisingly effective, and if they’re not, you usually can get relief by visiting an allergist or immunologist for treatment. Despite the common term, neither “hay” nor “fever” are involved in seasonal allergies. Here’s what allergists who treat seasonal allergies would like you to know about this condition.
- 1. “Seasonal allergies can last almost all year.”While seasonal allergies are, by definition, limited in duration to a calendar season, they can last nearly all year long as different pollen producers grow and later wither throughout the year. “In the fall, seasonal allergies are due to weed pollens, such as ragweed. In the spring and summer, they’re likely due to tree and grass pollen,” says Jon E. Stahlman, MD, senior physician and managing partner at The Allergy & Asthma Center, affiliated with Gwinnett Medical Center in Atlanta.
- 2. “We want to know about your home and work environments for diagnostic purposes.”Many medical conditions are diagnosed using high-tech imaging or invasive tests. However, your allergist may first ask about your work and living environments before proceeding to other diagnostic tools. “It is important to establish a good environmental history,” says Hylton Lightman, MD, of Total Family Care of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, N.Y., and former director of pediatric allergy and asthma at Queens General Hospital. “We ask about the types of window coverings you use, whether or not you have carpeting, type of air conditioning and heating systems, and other environmental factors that could lead to nasal allergies.”
- 3. “Moving cross-country won’t solve your allergy problems.”In days gone by, many people with allergies or asthma believed moving to a dry, desert climate in the western United States would improve their symptoms. Turns out that’s not the case. “Moving from one geographic area to another does not solve allergy problems, since one can develop allergies to the indigenous flora of the new area over time,” says Joanna Johnson, MD, allergy and immunology specialist at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.
- 4. “Seasonal allergies can make you accident-prone.”While many people consider the itchy eyes and runny nose of seasonal allergies to be mainly a nuisance, the truth is people who experience severe allergy symptoms miss work more often than other people, and they can even become accident prone. “Allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies) can be associated with symptoms like irritability, fatigue, poor sleeping, decreased concentration, and memory issues,” Dr. Lightman says. “These can lead to school and work absences, increased motor vehicle accidents, and work injuries.”
- 5. “Local raw honey is not a sweet treatment for children’s allergies.”Consuming local, raw honey is often suggested as a way to expose your immune system to small doses of local pollen and thereby inoculate yourself against the symptoms of seasonal allergies. However, this is not a home remedy to use in children. “There is no proof that taking raw honey is effective at ‘desensitizing’ people to pollen, and it should not be used in young children due to the risk of botulism,” Dr. Stahlman says.
- 6. “Seasonal allergies can make your lips swell.”For some people with seasonal allergies, eating certain foods in season can cause them to experience an unpleasant reaction. “Oral allergy syndrome, or OAS, occurs in about 70% of pollen allergy sufferers,” said Dr. Lightman. “In OAS, the body’s immune system mistakes a protein in food for pollen. This can cause itchy, swollen lips; a scratchy mouth; and tingling throat. People with grass pollen should avoid oranges, tomatoes, melons and figs. For weed pollens, avoid bananas, cantaloupe, melons, cucumbers, avocado, and hibiscus or chamomile tea. Other foods that can cause OAS include apples, cherries, strawberry, celery and almonds.”
- 7. “Medications aren’t the only way to reduce your allergy symptoms.”Prescription or over-the-counter drugs often work to minimize allergy suffering, but non-medical treatments can be surprisingly effective, too. Dr. Lightman advises closing windows and doors during allergy season, changing your shoes and clothes after you’ve been outdoors, and showering to remove pollen from your body. And good old-fashioned salt water may be helpful, too. “The best home remedy for allergies is a saline nasal rinse,” Dr. Stahlman says. “For severe eye symptoms, cold washcloths over the eyes also work well.”
- 8. “Allergy shots may soon be a thing of the past.”One of the most effective treatments for seasonal allergies is immunotherapy, which exposes your immune system to allergens in order to help it recognize these proteins and stop attacking them so aggressively. Historically immunotherapy has involved injecting small amounts of an allergen into the arm over the course of many years. But those painful pricks may be on their way out. “Sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT, is a newer form where small doses are placed beneath the tongue, either liquids or tablets,” Dr. Lightman said. “Presently it’s approved for grass and ragweed.”