While the world blooms with vibrant colours and sunshine, it also brings sneezes, itchy eyes, and runny noses for some. We chatted with a number of allergist doctors and explored the world of allergies during spring and summer, commonly referred to as “hay fever” or seasonal allergies. In this article, we uncover what causes these seasonal sniffles and discuss treatment options for a symptom-free season.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, are the body’s overreaction to certain allergens that become prevalent in the air during spring and summer. These allergens are primarily pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. As the weather warms up, plants release tiny pollen particles into the air, which can trigger an immune response in sensitive individuals.
The Nose Knows: Causes of Seasonal Allergies
The culprit behind seasonal allergies is often pollen. When inhaled, pollen can irritate the nasal passages and trigger an immune response. Your body sees the harmless pollen as a threat, releasing histamines and other chemicals that cause the familiar allergy symptoms: sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes, and a runny nose.
Not everyone is equally susceptible to seasonal allergies. Genetics plays a role, so if your parents or siblings have them, you might be more prone to developing them as well. Environmental factors and exposure to allergens during childhood can also influence your likelihood of developing allergies.
Who is Affected?
Seasonal allergies don’t discriminate; they can affect anyone, young or old. However, they tend to debut during childhood or adolescence. It’s estimated that around 20% of the population suffers from seasonal allergies, making it one of the most common chronic conditions. If you’ve been wondering why you suddenly can’t stop sneezing each spring, you’re not alone!
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing seasonal allergies, such as living in areas with high pollen counts or having a family history of allergies. Keep an eye out for common symptoms like sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, a stuffy or runny nose, and scratchy throat when the flowers start to bloom.
Over-the-Counter Treatment Options
The good news is that you don’t have to suffer through spring and summer with a stuffy nose. There are several over-the-counter (OTC) options that can help alleviate your symptoms:
- Antihistamines: These medications block the effects of histamine, reducing sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Common OTC antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine.
- Decongestants: These can provide temporary relief from nasal congestion. However, they should be used cautiously, as prolonged use can lead to “rebound congestion.” Popular OTC decongestants include pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine.
- Nasal Sprays: Saline nasal sprays can help flush allergens from your nasal passages, while corticosteroid nasal sprays like fluticasone can reduce inflammation and symptoms.
Prescription Treatment Options
In some cases, OTC options may not provide adequate relief, and that’s where a visit to an allergist doctor can be beneficial. Here are some prescription treatment options we might consider:
- Prescription Antihistamines: If OTC antihistamines aren’t cutting it, your allergist can prescribe stronger, more effective antihistamines.
- Nasal Corticosteroids: These prescription nasal sprays are more potent than OTC versions and can provide significant relief from allergy symptoms.
- Leukotriene Modifiers: These medications can help control allergic reactions by blocking leukotrienes, which are chemicals that cause inflammation.
- Immunotherapy: For severe cases or when other treatments fail, allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) can be considered. It involves gradually exposing your immune system to the allergen to reduce your body’s sensitivity over time.
Breathe Easy: Tips for Managing Seasonal Allergies
In addition to medications, here are some lifestyle tips to help you manage seasonal allergies:
- Monitor Pollen Levels: Keep an eye on local pollen counts and try to stay indoors when levels are high.
- Use Air Purifiers: High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can help remove allergens from your home.
- Keep Windows Closed: During peak pollen season, keep windows and doors closed to prevent allergens from entering your home.
- Shower After Being Outdoors: Showering and changing clothes can help remove pollen from your body and prevent it from spreading inside.
- Wear Sunglasses: Sunglasses can help protect your eyes from pollen and reduce itching and watering.
The Final Word on Allergies
While seasonal allergies can put a damper on your spring and summer fun, there are plenty of effective treatment options available. Whether you opt for OTC solutions or consult with an allergist for prescription options, seasonal allergies don’t need to cramp your style; with the right treatment and a few lifestyle adjustments, you can spring into action and savour the joys of spring and summer, sneeze-free.
For more information, visit the Allergy Foundation South Africa www.allergyfoundation.co.za
Disclaimer: This article is published solely for informational purposes and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical guidance.