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What causes allergies to get worse?

 

William Culver, MD, is board certified in adult and pediatric allergy and asthma at Aspen Medical Center - Allergy in Loveland, Colo. 

Question: Can you tell me why my allergies flare up at certain times?

Answer: Typical allergy symptoms are sneezing, itching, runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, and nasal congestion. Nasal congestion is the most bothersome symptom for many. Others may have cough, wheezing and skin issues.

The cause of these allergy symptoms is the airborne pollen of springtime trees, and grass in the May-July time-frame.

What is pollen?  The pollen grain is the structure used to transport the male to the female part of a flower. Pollen grains are microscopic and usually invisible to the human eye. Just a pinch of pollen contains thousands and thousands of grains.  One linear inch of single file grass pollen would contain 7,500 pollen grains. 

Some years the pollen is much more plentiful and symptoms are worse. Other years are more tolerable with lower pollen production. Thanks to the abundant moisture, this year promises to be remembered as one of peak pollen and peak allergy symptoms.

The cottonwood flying about is not the cause of allergies. These cottonwood seedlings are not pollen. They are too large and bulky to get far inside the nose. Cottonwood trees happen to molt at the same time grass pollen season is peaking. It is the blamed culprit while the grass pollen is vigorous. This means the sneezing, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes gets associated with what the eyes can see - cottonwood seedlings. The tiny microscopic grass pollen grains are not visible to the naked eye.

Question: What can I do about these allergy symptoms?

Answer: Avoidance of the known causes of symptoms is generally advised. Air-conditioning may help as the pollen in the air is filtered. Keeping the windows closed will reduce the indoor pollen levels. Likewise brushing off and cleaning up after yard work may reduce prolonged pollen exposure.

Histamine and leukotrienes are chemicals released in allergic conditions. Over the counter antihistamines such as Loratadine or prescription antihistamine/leukotriene medication are useful. Prescription allergy sprays actually outperform pills in reducing allergy symptoms. Rinsing the nose with a salt water solution is an inexpensive and effective remedy.

Allergy injections are an effective long-term solution provided high dose and concentration are used. Drops under the tongue are not yet FDA approved for use in the United States, and are not as effective as the injection route.

Page Last Modified: 10/21/2010
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