In Ohio, seasonal allergies typically occur in spring, summer, and fall (yes, that only leaves a short respite in winter). The worst months are April, June, and September. The most common outdoor allergy triggers are pollen (from trees, grass, and weeds); and mold spores. Experts believe that climate change, with milder winters and increasing average spring temperatures, is leading to worse, and longer, pollen allergy seasons.
What is an ‘Allergy’?
Allergies start when your body’s immune system reacts to some foreign substance that it sees as harmful. The body produces antibodies that remain on high alert, and when you’re exposed to the allergen again, those antibodies kick in and release chemicals (such as histamine) that cause the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms typically include sneezing; stuffy, runny, itchy nose; red, swollen, itchy, watery eyes; and hives.
Detecting what is causing your allergic reaction
A variety of tests can be done to determine if you have an allergy, and to which specific allergens you are allergic. These tests are done by physicians who have specialized in allergies (in addition to allergists, this may include dermatologists, pulmonologists, pediatricians).
- Skin prick or patch tests: These tests involve introducing small drops of various allergens into the skin; if the area becomes red and swollen, then you are having an allergic reaction to that specific allergen.
- Blood test: Sometimes blood tests can be done to look for certain antibodies to allergens.
There’s an app for that!
For more information about local air quality and pollen and mold levels, check out the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency’s website (www.southwestohioair.org), or download the Pollen Wise app which provides information for our top-level allergen categories. You can also keep track of your symptoms, review your history, and learn more about managing your exposure.
Consulting an Expert!
We consulted local Allergy expert, and Hamilton, Ohio native, Dr. Jeffrey Leipzig, who sees patients in Hamilton (Fairfield Township), Oxford, and Mason. For more information about Dr. Leipzig, or to schedule an appointment, check out his website www.familyallergy.com or call 800-999-1249.
How can we tell if we have allergies versus other respiratory illness such as a cold or flu?
To help us differentiate, we look at duration, onset and triggers, itching and eye symptoms, fever, and nasal discharge.
- Allergic rhinitis tends to last longer than a typical cold; it can persist for several weeks or months.
- If your symptoms consistently occur during specific times of the year or when exposed to certain triggers, it’s more likely allergic rhinitis.
- Itchy, watery eyes are more common in allergies than a cold.
- Fever is more commonly associated with an infection rather than allergies.
- Nasal discharge is often thicker and yellowish/greenish with colds; whereas in allergic rhinitis, it is typically clear and watery.
When should we see an Allergist?
You should consider seeing an allergist if you experience frequent or severe allergies, such as hay fever, allergic asthma, or food allergies. An allergist can help diagnose the specific allergens causing your symptoms and develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Additionally, if you have a history of anaphylaxis or other serious allergic reactions, it is important to consult with an allergist for proper management and preventive measures.
What are your primary recommendations to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies?
Here are some recommendations to help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms:
- Monitor pollen forecasts, and limit outdoor activities during peak pollen times, such as early morning or windy days.
- Keep windows closed, and consider using air conditioning or an air purifier with a HEPA filter to improve indoor air quality.
- Wash your hands and face regularly, especially after spending time outdoors, to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
- Rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution using a Neti pot or nasal spray to help flush out allergens and relieve congestion.
- Avoid line drying laundry outdoors; pollen can stick to clothing and bedding.
- If you must be outside during high pollen times, wear sunglasses to shield your eyes and a hat to keep pollen out of your hair. Masking is also helpful to protect against outdoor pollen exposure.
- Keep pets clean; if they spend time outdoors, wipe then down when they come indoors or give them a bath to remove pollen that may be trapped in their fur.
What are your most common treatment plans for seasonal allergies?
- Over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, and runny nose caused by allergies; examples include cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin).
- Nasal corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms like congestion, sneezing, and itching; popular options include fluticasone (Flovent HFA), and budesonide (Rhinocort).
- Decongestants temporarily relieve nasal congestion; however, should only be used for short periods due to the risk of rebound congestion. Examples include loratadine/pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D), and cetirizine/pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D).
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy) may be recommended by your allergist for severe or persistent allergies. This involves regular injections of small amounts of allergens to help your body build immunity over time.
What are some trusted online resources?
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.AAAAI.org)
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.ACAAI.org)
-- Shari Botts, BSN, RN, CPHQ, CIC