By: Abner Bagenstose, MD Board Certified Allergist
Warmer weather and sunshine are just around the corner and for most of us, it can’t come soon enough! But for allergy sufferers, the warmer weather and sun bring the pollen. With it, a variety of symptoms from congestion and a runny itchy nose and sneezing to itchy, watery eyes, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. And for some, spring even means rashes and itchy skin.
What causes such misery during what is supposed to be a time to celebrate nature, and what can be done to help?
Causes of allergy symptoms
Pollen is a significant component of airborne elements of the atmosphere. The proteinaceous substance of pollen grains are potent allergens. Pollen grains — the male structure of seed-bearing plants — can be transported from one plant to another by insects and water, or produced in vast quantities (we are talking billions!) and released into the air from the very small flowers that often appear before trees grow leaves in the spring. Wind-blown pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds are all causes of seasonal allergies.
Early springtime allergies
In central Ohio, the trees release pollens in the early spring and have been more bothersome in recent years, possibly because people are more likely to spend time outside with warmer weather. The trees with the highest pollen counts include Box Elder, Mulberry, Ash, Oak, and Elm. Other trees that may cause symptoms, if more locally exposed, include Birch, Red Cedar, Cottonwood, Beech, Hickory, Sycamore, and Walnut. Tree pollens usually cause symptoms in April and May but may begin in late March and last to the middle of June. Red Cedar tree pollen is one exception that can cause symptoms in February and March.
Late springtime allergies
Grass pollen begins to cause symptoms in the middle of May, and continues through July but is especially bothersome during June. In central Ohio, the grass pollens that are most likely to cause allergy symptoms include Timothy, Orchard, June, Blue Grass, and Bermuda. Mold spores may affect sufferers throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
What can be done to help allergy sufferers?
Treatment of allergies includes:
Avoidance: Keep the doors and windows closed and use air conditioning. Pollen counts are highest from 5 am to 10 am and also at dusk, so avoid going outside during these times. Also, dry, warm and windy days have higher pollen counts than cold and damp days.
Medication: Over-the-counter antihistamine tablets such as Allegra, Claritin, or Zyrtec can provide relief. Antihistamine nasal sprays (Astelin or Patanase), antihistamine eye drops, and corticosteroid nasal sprays such as Flonase or Nasacort, which can be found at your local drugstore, can also be helpful and are most effective if used routinely.
Asthma symptoms may respond to prescription bronchodilators (albuterol), inhaled corticosteroids, or leukotriene blockers such as Singulair.
Allergen immunotherapy can also be very helpful to reduce symptoms, can decrease the need for medication, and in a significant percentage of patients, can be curative! Both oral and injectable immunotherapy is available, however, oral immunotherapy is limited to only a single allergen while injection can treat multiple allergens at a time and is the preferred method of immunotherapy. For tree pollen, molds, and animal danders, allergy injections are the only type of immunotherapy available.
Not sure what’s got your symptoms acting up this spring? Come in for a diagnostic test and get the treatment that will let you enjoy the warmer weather!