Joseph R. Anticaglia, MD
Medical Advisory Board
Jennifer’s 11 year old son was diagnosed with seasonal allergies four years ago. She’s wondering why her son is showing allergy symptoms earlier in the year compared to previous years. Also, his symptoms seems to last into the late summer. Mom is worried because his allergies triggered asthmatic attacks causing him to miss four days from school.
Spring came early this year to millions of Americans coping with seasonal allergies. It brought with it pollen causing sneezing, itchiness, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, and in some cases triggering asthmatic attacks. If you think pollen seasons seems to be longer, and longer every year, you are right. Research shows that “pollen season starts 20 days earlier, are 10 days longer, and feature 21% more pollen” compared to 30 years ago, says the National Academy of Sciences.
Rising global air temperatures accompanied by increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere have been happening since the industrial revolution; particularly since1975, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The combination of rising global temperatures with more CO2 in the atmosphere (plus water) is a formula for more tree, grass, and ragweed pollen to accumulate, and circulate in the air causing misery to allergy sufferers. Often, people with allergies greet people with an “allergy salute.”
What Are Allergies?
An allergy is a condition where a person’s immune system reacts abnormally to substances that are typically harmless to most people. These substances are called allergens, and can include things like pollen, pet dander, certain foods, medications, or insect venom,
When a person with a seasonal allergy is exposed to allergens such as pollen from trees, grasses, or ragweed, their immune system produces histamine causing bodily tissues to become swollen and congested. This immune system’s overreaction can range from moderate symptoms like watery-runny nose, sneezing, stuffy nose to severe life-threatening, rapid onset, breathing symptoms like anaphylaxis. There are preventive steps people can take to minimize the symptoms of allergy.
- Avoid your pollen allergens as best you can.
- Monitor pollen forecasts.
- Close windows during pollen season.
- Limit time outside when air pollution levels, or pollen counts are high.
- Use air conditioning on recirculation mode, if possible, to keep allergens out.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet (or necklace).
- Keep a diary, note what you do, what brings on the symptoms, what helps.
- Take your medicines as prescribed.
- Consider starting allergy medication, oral antihistamines, intranasal steroids, several weeks before symptoms ordinarily appear at the start of the season.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet (or necklace).
- If you are at risk for anaphylaxis, keep your epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.
- Have a concise, written, allergic reaction plan on a card, for example, in your wallet reminding you, and informing others what to do.
- Try using a nasal saline spray to relieve congestion and flush out allergens.
- Artificial tears can help soothe irritated eyes.
- Consult with your doctor before using eye drops, oral, or nasal decongestants.
In 2021, approximately eighty-one million people in the U. S. were diagnosed with seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis — hay fever). This equals around 67 million adults, and 14 million children. Although there is no cure for allergies, they can be managed with preventive measures, medications, and immunotherapy.
- U. S. Department of Agriculture; Yes, Allergy Seasons Are Getting Worse. Blame Climate Change; May 23, 2022
- William R. L. Anderegg, et al; Anthropogenic climate change is worsening North American pollen seasons; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 8, 2021
- Mitchell Grayson, MD; Allergy Facts and Figures; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (aafa); April 2022 updated March 2023
- Carolyn Olson, MPH, Cheryl Lawrence, MD, FAAP; 2023 Health Advisory #4: Spring is Here: Prepare Patients with Asthma for Spring Pollen Season; New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening, whole body allergic reaction to a harmful substance causing the immune system to release a cascade of chemicals that make you go into shock. A person’s blood pressure drops, the heart rate is rapid, the pulse is weak, the airways narrow with labored breathing. As noted, if you are at risk for anaphylaxis, keep your epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.
Immunotherapy involves giving gradually increasing doses of the allergens to which the person is allergic, such as tree, grass or ragweed pollens. The goal is to make the immune system less sensitive to the person’s allergic substance, and thus, minimize an overreaction to the allergen.
Atopy is the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases.
Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants use sunlight to make (synthesize) sugars from carbon dioxide and water, and produce oxygen as a byproduct. The process uses the green pigment chlorophyll to capture the sun’s energy (photo means light).
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.