Allergy season is a bear. For some, it is a year-round struggle with invisible airborne particles. Something is always blooming, even in January or February (those pesky pine trees!). Trees pollinate first, then grass, followed by ragweed. There are also offenders like smoke, household dust, pet dander, dust mites, mold and perfume.
According to Allergy & Asthma Network, one in five Americans has environmental allergies, including two of three asthma patients. Allergies are among the top six causes of chronic illness. More than 100 million Americans suffer from allergies and miss four million work days annually.
We suffer more every year—but why? We’re too clean! Really! One theory, dubbed the “hygiene hypothesis,” posits that children aren’t exposed to enough germs, so their immune systems can’t differentiate between harmful and harmless irritants. The immune system is always in attack mode.
Another popular theory is that climate change causes early growing seasons which last longer. The additional growing cycles for plants mean extra pollen for allergy sufferers. And allergies are hereditary. Children are 50% more likely to have allergies if a parent has allergies. If both parents are allergy sufferers, the likelihood jumps to 75%
Age plays a part. Exposure to more allergens causes your reaction to worsen because exposure tells your immune system to respond.
Who Has It Worse?
All pollen spots are not created equal. Southern cities pay for those warm winters by growing pollen producers nearly year-round. Without freezing temperatures, mold spores don’t have a dormant period.
An article in The Hill in May 2023 lists cities with the dubious distinction of “Allergy Capitals of America.” Fortunately, the New River Valley didn’t make the list, but nearby Greensboro ranks 19. Seven of the top 20 were in Florida. Allergy rankings are based on an area’s pollen counts, over-the-counter (OTC) medication purchases, and number of allergy physicians.
The Weather Channel’s app has 15-day allergy forecasts so you know when to stay indoors. The app includes a breakdown of current offenders, like tree, grass and ragweed pollen.
You can’t cure allergies, but OTC medications and prescriptions relieve symptoms. Some work better for specific triggers than others, so try several to find what works for you. If you know your triggers, limit contact.
Portia Thompson, registered pharmacist (Rph) at Floyd’s Pha?m House pharmacy, explains: “Antihistamines are helpful when taken proactively, consistently and before allergen exposure. Decongestants like Sudafed (behind the counter) may relieve congestion if symptoms worsen. Decongestants can be combined with ibuprofen or Advil to reduce sinus headaches. You should also take zinc, vitamin C, blow your nose to remove irritants and flush with saline.”
Personally, I take one antihistamine from January through June for pine pollen and switch to another that works better (for me) on dust, grass and ragweed. My life changed when the Navage® was invented; daily saline nasal flushes work wonders.
Lois Baumgartner of Blacksburg suffers year-round from more triggers than anyone should face. Reared in Wisconsin, at 13, Lois was diagnosed with airborne allergies and contact dermatitis. Both parents had allergies, so she squarely hits that 75% likelihood. Her dad had a great solution—move! He would pack up the family of four and take off for Arizona each August. Statistically, Lois’ children (with one allergy-free parent) had a 50% chance of “inheriting;” sure enough, one of the two is an allergy sufferer.
Lois has some tips based on many challenging years of trying all the “latest and greatest” cures. “Take charge of your own health,” she states emphatically, plus:
• Keep a diary to see what happens and when
• Change HVAC filters monthly
• Use ionizers and air purifiers
• Try alternative medications, like a combination of
antioxidants and minerals might be the ticket
Diligent housekeeping can help remove dust and allergens that collect in carpets, upholstery and bedding. Once a week cleaning with a damp cloth and mop traps those pesky allergens instead of flicking them back into the air. It is wise as well to avoid cleaning products with fragrances.
Along with Dr. Thompson, Lois urges: “Wear a mask.” They are essential when working outdoors, mowing and raking, and also helpful when cleaning and stirring up dust indoors.
Other tips to remove allergens:
• Sweep porches and decks frequently
• Shower and shampoo hair after being outside
• Remove shoes at the door
• Brush pets frequently
If dust mites are present, purchase dust-mite-proof covers for mattresses, pillows and box springs for allergen-free sleeping. Launder sheets and pet bedding in hot water each week.
Effect of Untreated Allergies
What if you decide to “tough it out” and let symptoms run their course? Those untreated allergies may lead to sinusitis (sinus infection), an inflammation of sinus tissues, causing facial pain, a stuffy or runny nose and a fever. About 70% clear up without antibiotics after two weeks, but many will require medical treatment.
Home remedies are more helpful in the early stages:
• Rest helps a body fight infection
• Drink plenty of fluids
• Use a warm compress on nose and forehead
• Try Vicks® VapoRub™
• Moisten and rinse sinuses and nasal passages
In short, as good as that fresh air feels, allergy sufferers should keep windows closed and rely on AC-filtered air.
Text by Jo Clark
Jo Clark is probably walking on the beach right now, clearing her sinuses with salt air. Somehow, she managed to survive an early spring in S.C. this year, then traveled north for a second dose.