For those who know the frustration and discomfort of seasonal allergies, spring and summer can be a time of dread. While everyone else is getting excited about warming temperatures and longer days, individuals who suffer from allergic rhinitis are getting ready to batten down the hatches. The sniffling, sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes that accompany seasonal allergies can disrupt your life and often make you miserable.
There is no cure for seasonal allergies, but there are steps you can take to reduce the misery that comes around every spring. Read on to discover what causes allergies, what you can do to help reduce your symptoms, and ways to get out and enjoy spring again.
Causes of Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, is caused by your body's reaction to dust, pollen, mold, dust mites, or other irritants like pet dander in your environment. Some of these potential irritants are always around you, while others become more abundant in the spring and summer.
Allergies are essentially an inappropriate response from your immune system. Allergy symptoms are caused by your body responding to something from your environment as though it was a disease or other danger that must be fended off.
Though it is called hay fever, seasonal allergies are caused by many other things than hay itself. Historically, hay harvesting season coincided with the time of year when many different plants begin releasing pollen. This increase in pollen comes from nearly every corner of the plant kingdom. Grasses, trees, decorative flowers we like, and weeds we don't, all get in on the action, releasing pollen into the air in an attempt to reproduce.
The plants that are pollinated by bees and other animals release pollen that is too heavy to stay in the air long. Trees including elm, pine, boxwood, willow, and even palm, as well as common grasses like fescue and Bermuda, all release pollen that contribute to seasonal allergies. Weeds such as ragweed, pigweed, and lamb's quarters are all common causes of suffering as well for many people.
These plants all produce light pollen that can move on the wind for miles, meaning you don't even need to be in the area of a plant you may be allergic to for symptoms to arise. It also means dry windy days in allergy season are some of the worst for people who suffer from hay fever.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
Symptoms of seasonal allergies include a runny nose, watery eyes, cough, wheezing, sore throat, itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion. These are some of the most common symptoms endured by allergy sufferers, and they can be common to many kinds of allergies beyond the seasonal variety.
These symptoms may not all be present for all sufferers of hay fever, and it is possible they may come and go depending on your levels of exposure to allergy triggers like pollen, dust, and dander. It is possible that during a season you may have good days and bad days depending on factors such as wind and rain and whether you are engaging in outdoor activities.
The symptoms of seasonal allergies are not dangerous in their own right for most sufferers, though they can make your life very unpleasant while symptoms last. It is possible that other, more serious health issues could be linked to allergies, though, so being on guard against sinus infections and potential lung issues is advised.
Diagnosing Seasonal Allergies
A few sniffles, a sore throat, or a runny nose could come from many different sources. With that being true, how do you make sure you are suffering from hay fever instead of something else like a cold?
The "season" in seasonal allergy is part of the answer. Many respiratory conditions strike in the winter months, while hay fever is more prominent in the spring and summer. If you have historically had symptoms at the same time every year, it could also be caused by trees or other plants in your area giving off pollen that is causing your body to have an allergic reaction.
Another factor to consider is what is in the air when you find you are suffering the worst. Air quality numbers that report the amount of pollen in the air (known as pollen counts), dust, and pollution can be another clue. If you find that your symptoms worsen when pollen counts are high, it could be a clue you are suffering from seasonal allergies. Dust and air pollution numbers, which are often published along with the amounts of specific pollens in the air, can affect your respiratory health as well.
To be certain you are suffering from seasonal allergies, and to know exactly what you are suffering from, you will have to get a diagnosis from a physician. It may seem silly to go to the doctor for a runny nose, but a medical diagnosis of allergic rhinitis can be the first step to relieving the discomfort of seasonal allergies.
After examining you and determining there is no other, more serious cause of your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to an allergist to have specific tests done. These tests are designed to narrow in on what exactly is causing your allergic reaction.
One of the main diagnostic tests used in identifying allergies is the prick test. In this test, diluted samples of several potential allergens are placed under your skin. Typically done on your arm or your back, this test can expose you to many different potential irritants at once. If you are allergic to any of the allergens tested, a small, localized bump will appear, indicating to your doctor what could be the cause of your symptoms.
In some cases, blood tests may also be used to identify other allergies. Blood tests are often used to look for allergies affecting your digestive tract, but what is in your blood can say more about you than what foods might trouble you.
Treating Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
If you are suffering from mild allergies and found that taking over-the-counter medication is enough to clear up your symptoms, you may be able to continue medicating and attempt to avoid known allergens when possible. For some of us, though, this is not enough. Symptoms are either so severe, or sources of allergies cannot be easily avoided. In these cases, it may be time to look for something stronger than over-the-counter drugs.
Treating seasonal allergies can take a few different paths depending on your symptoms' origin and severity. The overall goal is to calm your body's response to whatever has sparked your allergic reaction.
The two main categories of drugs that treat allergies are antihistamines and decongestants. These can be taken separately, though they are also combined in some medications to offer greater relief. Antihistamines do their job by blocking the body's out-of-control immune system response that is giving rise to your symptoms. Decongestants work by reducing inflammation, swelling, and the formation of mucus that causes nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
These drugs are typically taken in pill form by most people. Recently, nasal sprays have been developed such as Nasacort (triamcinolone) and Rhinocort Allergy (budesonide) steroid sprays that help to reduce swelling. These are available over the counter, but other prescription offerings exist as well.
For more serious seasonal or environmental allergies, allergy shots and treatments such as immunotherapy, which helps the body get used to an allergen, are also available. These treatments can provide longer-term relief than over-the-counter medications.
You Can Get Relief from Seasonal Allergies
The best part of TrustCare's allergy care options is how available they are. You don't even need to make an appointment. If you have decided you have had enough of suffering through the stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes, simply visit one of our walk-in clinics to start down the path of relief.