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April 26, 2019 • read
Springtime allergies? Here’s what you need to know.
It’s starting to feel like spring. But while we welcome the warm weather, those of us with seasonal allergies are dreading what comes next. Because as sure as spring brings rain, for allergy sufferers it also brings itchy eyes and near constant sneezing. To mark the seasonal transition, we’re explaining the causes of allergies, how you can reduce your symptoms, and when you need to see an allergist. An allergist is a physician trained to diagnose and treat allergic disease.
What are allergies?
An allergy is when your immune system notices a harmless substance, pollen for example, and mistakenly interprets it as harmful. Your body responds by trying to get rid of the substance — by sneezing, coughing, and building up mucus to block it. Some scientists think allergies might be a holdover from our ancestors, who may have needed a defense against plants or pollen that were actually toxic, but there is no clear reason why we get them.
While allergies symptoms can mimic a cold, there are a few key ways to tell them apart. You won’t get a fever with an allergic reaction. Likewise, having itchy eyes isn’t a symptom of a cold or the flu, but it is associated with allergies. And with allergies, once you have removed yourself from the substance that triggers you, your symptoms will disappear. Not so with a cold.
Symptoms of spring allergies
Signs of spring allergies are hard to ignore and can be pretty uncomfortable. They include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Sneezing, runny nose or congestion
- Itchy skin, hives and/or rash
- Itchy throat
Why do some people have allergies?
There is a hereditary component to allergies. This means that if an immediate family member has an allergy, you are more likely to have one as well. Environmental factors are also important; however, some research supports the idea that exposing children to specific germs and microbes in the right environment can decrease their risk of developing allergies.
The most common spring allergies
Flowers bloom in the spring, and this has many people believing that flowers are largely responsible for spring allergies. But the truth is that tree and grass pollen are actually the chief culprits (who even knew grasses had pollen?!). People tend to be more familiar with ragweed, which becomes most active in the late summer and fall. Many are also allergic to mould, caused by the humidity that spring and summer bring on.
Spring allergy remedies
Responding to an allergen can be as simple as avoiding it altogether (hello to regifting your child’s guinea pig). You can also keep symptoms at bay by limiting your direct exposure — delegating the lawn care to someone else for example. With seasonal allergies, however, those options aren’t always on the table. Medication is often the next step.
Antihistamines are the most widely used remedy for mild allergic reactions. For more severe allergies a prescription medication might be necessary. And in case of anaphylactic allergies, an epipen and immediate medical attention are necessary.
Some swear by eating local, raw honey as a cure for spring allergies, but no solid studies back that up. And given that the most common allergies are to grass and weed pollen, and honey is made with flower pollen, it’s no surprise. What is proven to work for some, however, is immunotherapy. This involves exposing the sufferer little by little to their allergen. The doctor does this either by giving you a tiny amount of the allergen in an injection under the skin, or an oral dose. Over time the doctor increases the amount to the point that exposure doesn’t bother you as much. It can take up to four years, but immunotherapy is the most successful long-term method for reducing allergy symptoms. For more tips on dealing with spring allergies, check out our blog post 7 life hacks to reduce your seasonal allergies.
When to see an allergist
A great rule of thumb for this is if your allergies are interfering with your life. Unless you’re planning to avoid being outside between April and October, or contemplating a move to Antarctica, you should see an allergist. Another warning sign is breathing difficulties — if you become a mouth breather as soon as April hits, you should see an allergist. If you find that antihistamines aren’t controlling your symptoms, or if you have asthma as well as allergies, you could be heading for a serious situation. Speaking with an allergist will help you find a better solution.
Spring allergies are unquestionably annoying, and often worse than that. They affect a huge proportion of the population, and with the rising temperatures associated with climate change, it appears that more people are being affected for longer periods of time. Luckily humans have developed ways of dealing with this common problem. If you find that your old solutions just aren’t cutting it, speak to a doctor to learn what else might be available.