About 20 percent of Americans suffer from some sort of allergy and for them, this year may be experienced as one of the worst allergy seasons in over a decade.
"People who struggle with asthma and allergies are dealing with staggering amounts of pollen this year," said Allergist/Immunologist William Houser, M.D.
"A very wet winter has led to record mold counts across the country. This was followed by a warmer than normal March, which has caused plants and trees to blossom early and simultaneously, leading to an explosion in the pollen counts."
"Pollens are egg-shaped powdery grains released from trees, flowers, and other types of vegetation," he explained. "They can be carried along by warm breezes or by insects and are designed to fall on other plants of the same type so that they can cross-pollinate. These airborne particles can cause allergic reactions if they land in a person's eyes, nose, lungs or on their skin."
Pollen counts in Salem and the surrounding area have remained high because of the lack of rainfall, and are expected to be in the high to moderate range according to Pollen.com, which provides a daily pollen count forecast by zip code.
"The primary culprit in northeastern Ohio right now is tree pollen," Dr. Houser added. "Normally, intermittent freezes in the late winter and early spring space out the pollen releases from the different types of trees. However, trees that would normally release pollen in stages are doing it all at once and causing a huge burst of pollen in the air. This is especially true with oaks, maples, birch, and mulberry trees."
Allergic rhinitis ("hay fever") is the most common of the allergic diseases and refers to seasonal nasal symptoms that are due to pollens. If you are allergic to outdoor pollens, you may only have allergy symptoms at certain times of the year:
- Winter and spring, you are probably allergic to tree pollens.
- Summer, you are probably allergic to grass and weed pollens.
- Late summer and fall, you probably are allergic to ragweed or other weed pollens, such as tumbleweed or sage.
"Allergic rhinitis is the body's immune system reaction when it comes into contact with certain allergens, such as pollen or mold," Dr. Housed continued.
"When people with allergies inhale these substances, an allergic antibody named IgE, treats them like dangerous invaders. This triggers the release of histamines and other chemicals, which cause the allergic responses of sneezing, dripping nose, congestion or itchiness.
"An allergy sufferer's symptoms can range from mild to severe and include nasal congestion and increased drainage, which can produce complications such as sinus headaches, sinus infections, sore throat and fatigue. Other symptoms can include a loss of sleep due to continued nasal congestion."
Since allergies can lead to other chronic conditions such as asthma, they should not be taken lightly.
"If seasonal allergy symptoms are making you miserable, consider seeing an allergist to help determine what is triggering your symptoms and develop a management plan, which may include the use of medication and certain environmental controls," Dr. Houser advised.
Allergy sufferers can also avail themselves of a variety of treatment options including over-the-counter medications such as Claritin and Zyrtec, and prescription medications.
"Antihistamines are used to relieve the symptoms of allergic rhinitis and other allergies," Dr. Houser said. "They work by blocking the action of histamine, which is a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Decongestants are used to treat nasal congestion and other symptoms associated with colds and allergies. They work by narrowing the blood vessels, leading to the clearing of nasal congestion. Prescription nasal sprays and other medications, such as Singulair, are also available.
"Immunotherapy, better known as allergy shots, is ultimately successful in up to 90 percent of people with seasonal allergic rhinitis. These shots work by desensitizing a person's immune system to a specific allergen through periodic injections of the substance in gradually increasing amounts. Initially the injections are given weekly, and then usually reduced to monthly over time. They typically begin to take effect within three to six months of the time when it is started."
Some other tips for reducing allergy symptoms include: closing the windows, staying inside air-conditioned spaces, and limiting outdoor activity between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are at their highest. It is also a good idea to frequently wash your hair, clothing and any surface that is exposed to pollen.
William Houser, M.D., provides a weekly outpatient clinic at Salem Community Hospital and is a member of the Courtesy Medical Staff. His office is located at 250 DeBartolo Place in Boardman, 330 758-2285.