This time of year brings the promise of warmth and the beauty of budding trees calling you to play outdoors, but allergy sufferers know spring also brings the itch, sneeze and fatigue that make you want to stay inside.
The fact is, about 40 percent of children and 30 percent of adults experience symptoms of seasonal or year-round allergies. These symptoms range from mild to severe enough to cause fatigue and difficulty concentrating in school or at work. Kids and adults with severe symptoms or asthma attacks may have days when they must stay home from school or work. Regardless of the severity, these symptoms are bothersome and restrict the activities you want to do.
What causes allergies?
Allergies occur when the immune system, which normally protects us from viruses and bacteria, mistakenly sees a benign substance as dangerous. In the springtime, tree pollens are the cause of most itchy, runny noses and
eyes. Grasses pollinate in May and June, causing similar symptoms. Weed pollens are the cause of most symptoms in late summer through fall. For some people, animals are the culprits. One person might only have trouble when they snuggle up to the beloved family cat or dog, but another person may enter a home and immediately know if a cat lives there. The same concept holds true for food allergies; the immune system thinks a food that should be good for us (e.g. peanuts) is somehow a threat.
What symptoms should I look for?
- Nose: watery discharge, blocked nasal passages, sneezing, nasal itching, post-nasal drip, loss of taste/smell, facial pressure or pain.
- Eyes: itchy, red eyes, feeling of grittiness in the eyes, swelling, sensitivity to light.
- Throat and ears: sore throat, hoarse voice, congestion or popping of the ears, itching of the throat or ears.
- Lungs: cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, tightness through the chest, difficulty exercising.
- Sleep: mouth breathing, frequent awakening, daytime fatigue, difficulty performing work or concentrating in school.
What can I do?
A doctor who is board certified in allergy and immunology has been specially trained to understand why the immune system reacts inappropriately to these benign substances, and knows how to treat accordingly. If you chose to see an allergy specialist, they may test you for allergies by scratching the skin with the allergens they think may be at play. Based on these results, your doctor can help recommend ways to avoid allergen exposure. But you also want to keep playing out of doors and rolling around with your pet. Therefore, your doctor will likely recommend some combination of antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops, asthma medications and possibly allergy shots.
What are allergy shots?
Allergy shots include the allergens to which each individual is sensitive. Over time, these shots change the way the immune system responds to allergens, leading to vastly improved symptoms. Allergy shots can help mitigate seasonal allergies, pet allergies, asthma and a bee sting allergy. The cost of immunotherapy will depend on your insurance coverage. Regardless of insurance payment, immunotherapy has been shown to be less expensive over time than allergy medications.
Summer is right around the corner. What about a bee sting allergy?
Getting stung by a bee is scary and hurts. Most people develop a small area of redness and swelling, and this is normal. Ten percent of people develop large areas of swelling (more than 4 inches) that are painful. Those people
who develop hives, swelling, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lightheadedness, or fainting after a bee sting should seek help from an allergy doctor. Skin and/or blood testing will be useful in deciding if you or
your child is allergic to venoms, and allergy shots under these circumstances can be lifesaving.