Some of the Allergies related to Spring
ollen is one of the most common causes of allergies in the United States. Pollen is a very fine powder produced by trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds in order to fertilize other plants of the same species. Many people have an adverse immune response when they breathe in pollen.
The immune system normally defends the body against harmful invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, to ward off illnesses. In people with pollen allergies, the immune system mistakenly identifies the harmless pollen as a dangerous intruder and begins to produce chemicals to fight against the pollen. This is known as an allergic reaction, and the specific type of pollen that causes it is known as an allergen. The reaction leads to numerous irritating symptoms, such as sneezing, stuffy nose, and watery eyes.
Some people have pollen allergies year-round, while others only have them during certain times of the year. For example, people who are sensitive to birch pollen will usually have increased symptoms during the spring when birch trees are in bloom. Similarly, those with ragweed allergies will be most affected during the late spring and early fall.
Pollen allergies affect up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children in the United States. The allergy is unlikely to go away once it has developed. However, symptoms can be treated with medications and allergy shots. Making certain lifestyle changes can also help relieve the symptoms associated with pollen allergies.
A pollen allergy may also be referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis.
What Are the Symptoms of a Pollen Allergy?
• nasal congestion
• sinus pressure, which may cause facial pain
• runny nose
• itchy, watery eyes
• scratchy throat
• swollen, bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes
• decreased sense of taste or smell
• increased asthmatic reactions
How Is a Pollen Allergy Diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually diagnose a pollen allergy. However, they may refer you to an allergist for allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis. An allergist is someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies. The allergist will first ask you about your medical history and your symptoms, including when they started and how long they have persisted. Make sure to tell them if the symptoms are only present or get worse at certain times of the year.
The allergist will then perform a skin prick test to determine the specific allergen that’s causing your symptoms. During the procedure, the allergist will prick different areas of the skin and insert a small amount of various types of allergens. If you’re allergic to any of the substances, you’ll develop redness, swelling, and itchiness at the site within 15 to 20 minutes.
How Is a Pollen Allergy Treated?
As with other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen. However, pollen is very difficult to avoid. You may be able to minimize your exposure to pollen by:
• staying indoors on dry, windy days having others take care of any gardening or yard work during peak seasons
• wearing a dust mask when pollen counts are high.
ye allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment that typically causes no problem in most people. An allergic reaction can occur when that “something” (called an allergen) comes in contact with antibodies attached to the mast cells in your eyes; the cells respond by releasing histamine and other substances or chemicals that cause tiny blood vessels to leak and the eyes to become itchy, red and watery.
Eye allergies share symptoms with some diseases of the eye, making accurate diagnosis imperative. The symptoms of eye allergy can range from mildly annoying redness to inflammation severe enough to impair vision. If symptoms persist or over-the-counter remedies do not bring relief, see an allergist, who will review your medical history and symptoms and conduct tests that can reveal an eye allergy.
Those tests may include an examination with a microscope, which will show swollen blood vessels on the surface of the eye. In addition, your doctor may test for a certain type of white blood cell that shows up on areas of the eye affected by allergies.
The primary types of eye allergy are seasonal or perennial allergic conjunctivitis, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis, contact allergic conjunctivitis and giant papillary conjunctivitis.
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a more serious eye allergy than SAC or PAC. While it can occur year-round, symptoms may worsen seasonally. It primarily occurs in boys and young men; about 75 percent of patients also have eczema or asthma. Symptoms include:
• Significant tearing and production of thick mucus
• The feeling of having something in the eye (foreign body sensation)
• Aversion to light (photophobia)
If left untreated, vernal keratoconjunctivitis can impair vision.
This type of allergy primarily affects older patients - mostly men with a history of allergic dermatitis. Symptoms of atopic keratoconjunctivitis can occur year-round and are similar to those of vernal keratoconjunctivitis:
• Severe itching• Burning
• Significant production of thick mucus that, after sleep, may cause the eyelids to stick together
This can result from irritation by contact lenses or by the proteins from tears that bind to the surface of the lens. Symptoms include:
• Mucous discharge
• Lens discomfort
hen people think of allergy problems, what comes to mind most often are the classic symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. Many people don’t realize that the ears can be affected by allergies, too.
The ear can be divided into three sections: outer, middle and inner.
The outer ear is made up of the ear we see, called the pinna, and the ear canal. The pinna and canal help catch and funnel sound vibrations toward the middle ear. The middle ear begins with the eardrum or tympanic membrane and contains the auditory bones-hammer, anvil, and stapes(STAY-peas)- which transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear or cochlea (COKE-lee-uh). The cochlea converts those vibrations into nerve impulses which can be interpreted by the brain as sound. The cochlea also contains the body’s balance apparatus- the vestibular (ves-TIB-you-luhr) system.
Allergies primarily affect the middle ear. As you can see, the middle ear has a drainage tube or pressure release valve called the eustachian (you-STAY-shun) tube. If this tube is clogged with mucus or its opening is blocked by allergy swelling, then pressure and fluid can build up in the middle ear. This gives us the sensation of being down a well, having the need to “pop” our ears frequently, and can result in diminished hearing. Fluid build-up also creates a good environment for infection to occur. Middle ear infections, called otitis media or OM, occur commonly in early childhood and are a frequent reason for antibiotic treatment and missed school days. Allergies are a well recognized cause for recurrent OM and kids who have more than their share of middle ear infections should be allergy tested.
Disorders affecting the inner ear, such as Meniere’s disease, may have an allergic component as well. Patients who fail to respond to conservative therapy may benefit from allergy desensitization, though evidence to support this comes largely from case series and anecdotal evidence.
External ear infection, otits externa (OE) or swimmer’s ear, is usually caused by a water loving bacterium called pseudomonas (soo-duh-MOAN-us). It is usually not related to allergies.
Finally, a word about itchy ears. You really want to scratch them, don’t you? Well, remember what your mom said: Never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow! The skin in the ear canal is paper thin and very easy to irritate. Although sticking a Q-tip in there might feel good for a few seconds, it will just make the ears itch more afterward.
rritated skin can be caused by a variety of factors. These include immune system disorders, medications and infections. When an allergen is responsible for triggering an immune system response, then it is an allergic skin condition.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
Eczema is the most common skin condition, especially in children. It affects one in five infants but only around one in fifty adults. It is now thought to be due to “leakiness” of the skin barrier, which causes it to dry out and become prone to irritation and inflammation by many environmental factors. Also, some people with eczema have a food sensitivity which can make eczema symptoms worse. In about half of patients with severe atopic dermatitis, the disease is due to inheritance of a faulty gene in their skin called filaggrin. Unlike with urticaria (hives), the itch of eczema is not only caused by histamine so anti-histamines may not control the symptoms. Eczema is often linked with asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or food allergy. This order of progression is called the atopic march.
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes in direct contact with an allergen. For instance, if you have a nickel allergy and your skin comes in contact with jewelry made with even a very small amount of nickel, you may develop red, bumpy, scaly, itchy or swollen skin at the point of contact.
Coming in contact with poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can also cause allergic contact dermatitis. The red, itchy rash is caused by an oily coating covering these plants. The allergic reaction can come from actually touching them, or by touching clothing, pets or even gardening tools that have come in contact with the oil.
Hives are an inflammation of the skin triggered when the immune system releases histamine. This causes small blood vessels to leak, which leads to swelling in the skin. Swelling in deep layers of the skin is called angioedema. There are two kinds of urticaria, acute and chronic. Acute urticaria occurs at times after eating a particular food or coming in contact with a particular trigger. It can also be triggered by non-allergic causes such as heat or exercise, as well as medications, foods, insect bites or infections. Chronic urticaria is rarely caused by specific triggers and so allergy tests are usually not helpful. Chronic urticaria can last for many months or years.
Angioedema is swelling in the deep layers of the skin. It is often seen together with urticaria (hives). Angioedema many times occurs in soft tissues such as the eyelids, mouth or genitals. Angioedema is called "acute" if the condition lasts only a short time such as minutes to hours. Acute angioedema is commonly caused by an allergic reaction to medications or foods. Chronic recurrent angioedema is when the condition returns over a long period of time. It typically does not have an identifiable cause.
Hereditary angiodema (HAE) is a rare, but serious genetic condition involving swelling in various body parts including the hands, feet, face, intestinal wall and airways. It does not respond to treatment with antihistamines or adrenaline so it is important to go see a specialist.