January 16, 2019 by Laura Pincus and Patty Shillington
What to Do When Seasonal Allergies Spring to Life
Tens of millions of Americans experience seasonal allergies, with spring being the time of year when sneezing, coughing and other allergy symptoms are most prevalent. And the number of allergy sufferers is likely to climb higher due to climate change, according to research.
Warmer temperatures and increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the air are having significant effects on the pollen released from plants, says research presented to members of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Global climate shifts are altering the time when plants release their pollen, the length of time the pollen is released and also making pollen stronger, the study found.
“More people seem to be bothered by seasonal allergies, and I think that climate change is definitely playing a role,” said Rozan Razzouk, M.D., a primary care physician with Baptist Health Primary Care in Miami. “In a subtropical climate like South Florida, where there’s a lot of trees and more rain and wind to spread pollen, people are more prone to being affected.”
Allergies and Global Warming
In the year 2000, pollen counts averaged 8,455. Fast forward to 2040, and those counts are anticipated to reach 21,735, according to a news release citing the research study. The research at Rutgers University also found the typical allergy season, which is usually spring, will begin earlier every year.
In areas that experience a lot of humidity, seasonal allergies no longer seem to be confined to traditional springtime. Doctors in those climates say they treat sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes caused by pollen in the air year-round.
“There’s really no break from allergies in a humid climate,” Dr. Razzouk said. “In Miami, we’ll usually only see a slight break in the late fall and early winter months, when the air tends to be dryer and not as hot.”
Children and Seasonal Allergies
Children can also feel the effects of seasonal allergies, and medication given while they’re babies may contribute. New research is linking the use of antibiotics in babies to allergies later in life.
Antibiotics given during the first 6 months of life increases by 50 percent a child’s risk for developing allergies to pollen and dust and doubles their risk of asthma, according to a study published earlier this month in JAMA Pediatrics.
Between April 2015 and January 2018, researchers studied the development of allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, contact dermatitis, asthma and food allergy in more than 790,000 children who were born between 2001 and 2013.
The study also draws a link between the use of acid-suppresive medications and allergies and asthma. Infants exposed to antacids had double the risk of developing food allergies and a 50 percent increase in asthma risk, the research found.
“Any medication that targets the body’s microbes can throw the immune system off balance,” Dr. Razzouk said. “An allergy is the result of the body’s overreaction to a foreign substance, like pollen, in an attempt to get rid of it.”
Tips for Controlling Seasonal Allergies
For adults and children suffering from sneezing, itchy eyes and other bothersome symptoms caused by seasonal allergies, Dr. Razzouk shares these tips for controlling them:
- Avoid allergic triggers. There are a lot of smartphone apps available to track daily pollen counts. Use the technology to note any increases in symptoms, such as itchy nose, throat and eyes, related to the pollen meters. Monitoring pollen levels can be especially helpful for people with asthma, who are more prone to need emergency medical care when allergies peak and affect their ability to breathe.
- Stay indoors. To limit exposure to pollen outside, stay inside air conditioning between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen levels tend to be highest, says Dr. Razzouk. She also recommends taking a shower after spending time outside to rinse away pollen that can stick to skin, hair and clothes. Avoiding outdoor activities on windy days, when pollen is more likely to be swirling around in the air, can also help keep pollen away.
- Use over-the-counter medication. Today’s antihistamines available without a prescription are safe, non-sedating and very effective in helping to control the itchy, teary and runny symptoms of seasonal allergies, Dr. Razzouk says. She recommends taking a daily dose, choosing from antihistamines with the active ingredient loratadine or cetirizine, when allergy symptoms are particularly bothersome. Over-the-counter nasal sprays that contain the topical decongestant fluticasone can help reduce swelling of nasal passages that pollen can cause.
- Practice good hygiene. Frequent hand-washing is always a healthy practice and especially during allergy season. Avoid putting pollen in contact with eyes, nose and mouth by not touching your face and washing hands after being outside. When pollen spread in the air gets trapped in a person’s nose, it can cause irritation and swelling, a condition called allergic rhinitis, or more commonly, hay fever. Sneezing and a runny nose result as the body’s immune system goes to work trying to clear the nasal passages. Over time, hay fever can lead to sinus infections. Dr. Razzouk recommends using over-the-counter saline drops to get pollen out of the nose and prevent bacterial build up. It’s also important to keep living and work environments clean, experts say, and advise wiping dusty surfaces with wet paper towels to trap allergens and vacuum floors regularly. Remember to look up and wipe ceiling fan blades and other surfaces on which dust can build and spread into the air.