Now that summer is here, allergy suffers are reacting to agents associated with this season. April showers and May flowers and their associated allergens change over to tree pollen in late spring and then in summer to grasses, weeds and other seasonal challenges. This article will describe common allergies, symptoms associated with allergic reactions and ways that physicians identify these agents, along with treatment.
Allergy symptoms and their causes
It is estimated that between 10% to 30% of the population has an allergic disease. The common reasons that primary care physicians refer their patients for testing is repeated or persistent respiratory symptoms, skin rashes, adverse reaction to foods, repeated infections (especially sinuses) and severe reactions to insect stings. Upper respiratory manifestations are similar to spring allergies, including runny, watery eyes; sneezing; coughing; itchy eyes and nose; and dark circles under your eyes.
Pollen exposure is the primary culprit. Trees are usually done with their heavy pollen production by late spring. In this area, starting in early May, grasses and weeds are the common triggers for summer allergies.
The types of plant that cause people symptoms can vary by location, but the primary types are shown in the plant allergens sidebar.
Other causes of allergic reactions:
• Air pollution can also cause or exacerbate summer allergies. The most common is ozone, which layers out at ground level. Smog is created by the reaction of sun and chemicals from auto exhaust. Because sunlight is stronger this time of year and airflow is often calmer in the summer, urban areas often are covered with clouds of ozone.
• There is an increased activity of bees, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets with the increased chance of bites and stings in the summer. Allergic reactions to exposure can vary, but can be potentially serious.
• Mosquito and other insect bites usually ause mild symptoms, like itching and swelling around the bite area. Some individuals can have serious allergic reactions and require emergency treatment.
• Molds love the dampness of our basements and bathrooms this time of year. Spores get into the air and set off an allergic reaction.
• Dust mites peak during summer. They grow in warm, humid temperatures and favor locations in your house such as bedding, fabric and carpets. Their microscopic residue can get into the air and set off allergic symptoms.
Testing for major allergens
When a person is referred for testing to identify environmental causes, there are several tests that can be used. Most of the tests are looking for reactions to inhaled, ingested, or insect bites and stings that can cause an IgE response. IgE is one of the immune proteins in our system that reacts during an allergy episode.
For inhaled allergies, skin testing is the primary method. Very dilute solutions of common or suspected allergens are either injected or scratched. For insect allergies, there are specific solutions used in the skin testing. The physician can identify specific allergies by observing the skin reaction and size of the wheal that develops in a positive test. The advantage of skin testing is that a larger number of potential allergens can be applied at one sitting, compared to blood analysis.
For food allergies, blood testing is used.
• Russian thistle
• Blue grasses
• Red top
• Sweet vernal
How Are Allergies Treated?
Over-the-counter medications include:
• Nasal spray decongestants — don’t use them for more than 3 days.
• Corticosteroid nasal sprays
• Eye drops
• Nasal irrigation
If over-the-counter remedies don’t help, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication:
• Corticosteroid nasal sprays
• Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs)
• Ipratropium bromide nasal spray (Atrovent)
• Immunotherapy —You’ll get tiny doses of allergens in the form of shots, tablets, or drops.
How to Make Allergy Season Easier
Take some simple steps to avoid your triggers.
• Stay inside when the pollen count and smog levels are high.
• Keep your doors and windows closed. Run your air conditioner to keep allergens out. Use an air purifier.
• Clean air filters in your home often. Also clean bookshelves, vents and other places where pollen collects.
• Wash bedding and rugs in hot water to get rid of dust mites and other allergens.
• Wash your hair, shower and change your clothes after you return from going outside.
• Vacuum often and wear a mask. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
• Wear a dust mask when you mow your lawn to minimize breathing in grass pollen.
Keep the humidity in your house between 30% and 50%, which reduces the growth of dust mites.