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Although the Southeastern United States experienced a cooler-than-normal winter, higher
rainfall and warming temperatures are already signaling the beginning of an active pollen
season in Tallahassee. And while seasonal allergy sufferers need no reminder, pollen season
triggers the symptoms—hay fever—that befall nearly 40 million Americans each year.
What’s causing your hay fever
People often want to know why many are sensitive to allergens while some aren’t. The ‘hygiene
hypothesis’ suggests a link between our learned immunity to infection and the increasing
incidence of allergic diseases, which occur as the immune system’s overreaction to otherwise
harmless airborne allergens. In other words, hay fever sufferers’ stronger immune systems may
be the cause of their body’s adverse reaction to pollen, mold, dust or smoke. Other doctors and
researchers think that diet, physical activity and lifestyle play a more significant role. But the
consensus is that allergies are largely hereditary, with the children of two allergic parents
developing hay fever nearly 70 percent of the time.
What’s making your seasonal symptoms worse
In the spring time, pollinating trees are the culprits of hay fever’s most common symptoms.
Those with allergies to birch, cedar, chestnut or willow tree may notice increased nasal
congestion and watery eyes as pollen production ramps up, especially in the mornings when
pollen is at its highest concentration in the atmosphere. Itchy sinuses, ear canals and throat
occur as a result of contact with pollen in the air, as well. Staying indoors when pollen levels are
highest is the best defense against hay fever. But when you can’t, removing clothes worn
outdoors as soon as you arrive home and showering off any residual pollen from your skin can
ease the suffering.
This is good advice in the summer, too, as 90 percent of allergy sufferers react to summer grass
pollens each year. For them, avoiding symptom triggers on hot, windy days is key. So, as you
strive to make your home a safe haven from allergens, make use of the air conditioner and
clothes dryer instead of ceiling fans and line drying. As much as the warm weather allows, wear
clothing that completely covers arms and legs, and delegate outdoor chores like lawn-mowing,
raking and tree trimming when possible. In the summer, when warms weather beckons, an
awareness of the allergy forecast and precautions against any triggers—such as the use of an
over-the-counter antihistamine—can nip hay fever symptoms in the bud.
While many seasonal allergens like their warm, dry temperatures, fall and winter aren’t without
their allergy triggers, either. Fall’s invasive ragweed blooms are known to cause severe allergic
reactions, and winter can wreak havoc on indoor allergies to mold, dust mites and pet dander.
Focusing on the bedroom and other areas where you spend most of your time, eliminate
carpeting where possible. Carpets can become traps for pollen and dust mites, easily releasing
allergens into the air from normal use, and relentlessly triggering indoor allergy symptoms. But
in addition, vacuum high-traffic areas regularly, preferably with a vacuum with allergen filters.
Wash all sheets, blankets and pillows at least once every two weeks, and use allergen control
covers with all bedding. For fall and winter allergies, it’s a good rule of thumb to maintain a
‘washable, wipeable’ environment when possible. Stuffed toys, throw pillows and heavy
curtains can all harbor these seasonal allergens that can cause hay fever.
Is this hay fever or a cold?
The most common symptoms of hay fever are sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, and
itchy sinuses, throat, eyes, or ear canals. But knowing, as we do, that hay fever can affect
allergy sufferers year-round, how can we distinguish hay fever from the common cold? First,
understand that, despite its name, hay fever will never cause fever. Rather, symptoms will arise
at rather consistent intervals with exposure to triggers. On the other hand, similar cold
symptoms will worsen in the short-term, but don’t reoccur in the long run. And while fatigue
related to sinus congestion and discomfort is common with allergies, general aches and pains
usually signal a cold.
Seasonal Allergies—Relief from Hay Fever and Allergy-induced Asthma
Although the entire Southeast United States experienced a cooler-than-normal winter, rain and
warming temperatures are already signaling the beginning of an active pollen season in
Tallahassee. And while allergy sufferers need no reminder, pollen season triggers the itchy,
watery eyes, nasal congestion, wheezing and sneezing that befall nearly 40 million Americans
These allergy symptoms, commonly diagnosed as ‘hay fever,’ are caused by the immune
system’s overreaction to otherwise harmless seasonal airborne substances like ragweed pollen
and dust. Each year, Americans lose an average total of 4 million workdays to hay fever, but an
understanding and avoidance of triggers, as well as an awareness of treatments, can help
allergy sufferers breathe easier this season.
Causes of Seasonal Allergies
Often, people want to know why some are so sensitive to allergens while many are not. The
‘hygiene hypothesis’ suggests a link between the decreasing incidence of infection in developed
countries and the increasing incidence of allergic diseases. Other researchers think it has more
to do with diet, physical activity and lifestyle. But the overwhelming consensus amongst
doctors is that allergies are largely hereditary, with the children of two allergic parents
developing hay fever nearly 70 percent of the time.
Hay Fever, or Allergic Rhinitis and Conjunctivitis, is actually a misnomer—hay does not cause
the problem, nor does it cause fever. Symptoms of hay fever do tend to mirror those of the
common cold, but if you’re unsure of which you’re suffering, consider the occurrence of your
symptoms. Those suffering from hay fever will likely experience multiple “cold symptoms” at
once, with their duration lasting only as long as the exposure to triggers. On the other hand, the
onset of a cold is generally slower and symptoms tend to worsen over time. Doctors determine
individual triggers for hay fever through skin tests, but it is most often controlled with an over-
the-counter antihistamine and strict avoidance of allergens, like pollen, flowering trees and
Asthma, an obstructive lung disease, is unfortunately common amongst allergy sufferers.
Because of their lungs’ increased responsiveness to airborne allergens, allergy sufferers can
experience frightening asthma attacks when exposed to mold, dust, pollen, animal dander and
tobacco smoke. However, like other allergy symptoms, allergen avoidance can mitigate the risk
of an asthma attack. Your doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory or
immunosuppressant, but allergy sufferers with a predisposition to asthma should stay indoors
on dry, windy days, especially during the early mornings or late evenings when airborne
allergens are their highest concentrations. Dusting indoor spaces thoroughly, changing air filters
and vacuuming regularly can also prevent asthma attacks brought on by seasonal allergens.
An otherwise pleasant subtropical climate helps turn Tallahassee’s beloved live oak trees into
allergy sufferers’ worst enemy come spring. With higher average rainfalls boosting flower
production, and global warming trends increasing pollen, finding relief from seasonal allergies is
a challenge in the Southeastern United States, the “allergy capital.” But given that pollen can
travel up to 400 miles, there’s no sense in moving. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, have been
shown to relieve chronic allergies, but simple steps like following pollen counts and limiting
exposure to allergens are the most effective precautions seasonal allergy sufferers can take to
avoid hay fever and allergy-induced asthma attacks.
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