All over the country we have seen record rainfall this season. We still have a month left of winter yet grass is sprouting, leaves are growing and flowers are blooming. Add warmer than normal temperatures to the mix and this is the perfect recipe for an early allergy season.
Allergy season usually begins with the start of Spring in March. Yet many may start their symptoms as early as February if they are allergic to what’s blooming.
Here are your questions answered:
What are allergies?
Allergies are the result of the immune response to a foreign particulate that our body senses. One could be allergic to pollen, dust, dander, food, insects, mold, metals, transfused blood, grafts, medicine and anything the body senses as a foreign intruder. Even though these may be individually harmless, a hypersensitivity reaction occurs as a result of their intrusion into the body. IgE antibodies find the allergen (intruder) and activate mast cells in the tissue and basophils in the blood. When these cells get activated, they release substances to help protect the body, including histamines, leukotrienes, and cytokines. These help the body attempt to sneeze and cough the allergen out, wall off the antigen, signal more antibodies, or produce tears and nasal secretions to flush it out.
What are symptoms of seasonal allergies?
Symptoms of allergies could include any or a combination of the following:
Congestion….. to name a few.
How do they differ from a cold?
Colds may have very similar symptoms to allergies. However they are different.
The common cold is caused by a virus. When one gets infected by the virus they may feel malaise, fever, and achy. This does not occur with allergies.
Moreover, nasal secretions from allergies are usually clear. In a cold, the mucous could be thicker and with color.
The same holds true with sputum. During an allergy the cough may have little to no mucous and if so, be light colored. Thick mucous could be a sign of an infection.
An allergic sore throat will seem more dry and scratchy. A sore throat from a cold is more uncomfortable and less easy to soothe.
Allergies may persist or be cyclical. Cold symptoms will usually subside after a few days and rarely persist longer than 10 days.
Can allergies lead to a cold?
Yes and no. Allergies should not in and of themselves cause an infection. However they may make one more vulnerable for a virus or bacteria to take over. Hence a bronchitis, sinus infection, or pneumonia could uncommonly follow an asthma attack.
Are seasonal allergies dangerous?
As stated previously, if one is susceptible to colds, an allergic attack could make them vulnerable. Moreover if one suffers from asthma, an allergy attack could incite an asthma attack. Very rarely would we see a life threatening anaphylaxis to an allergen such as pollen.
How can we prevent and treat allergies?
Avoiding, or decreasing exposure to the allergen is key. We suggest the following:
- Be aware of your local weather and pollen counts. If the weather begins to warm and regional vegetation is blooming, allergy season may be upon you sooner than you know.
- Avoid outside pollen from coming into your house. Avoid the urge to open all the windows during Springtime as wind will bring the pollen in.
- Clean your air filters. Replace air filters frequently and consider using HEPA Filters
- Wash off pollen from your hair and clothes before you sit on the couch or jump into bed.
- Close your car windows when you park.
- “Recirculate” the air in your car
- Discuss with your medical provider if you are a candidate for medications such as antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids or leukotriene antagonists.
- If you suffer from respiratory illnesses or a chronic medical condition, discuss with your medical provider if you need to start your allergy medication before allergy season hits. Some of these medications may take a couple weeks to reach therapeutic levels.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician