What a beautiful time to take a walk in the park – if you aren’t allergic to pollen or have hay fever. Hay fever, rose fever, or even a summer cold, are more correctly named pollen allergy, seasonal allergic rhinitis, or pollinosis.
The fact is, no fever is involved, the illness is not a cold, and neither hay nor roses are common causes for pollen allergy symptoms. But whatever you call it, pollen allergy produces symptoms that are very uncomfortable.
It is estimated that 20 million Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis and another 10 million are victims of asthma, which can be a serious companion to pollen allergy. Rain will usually lower the count and dry, windy weather will usually tend to increase the count.
What occurs with a pollen allergy?
Pollens are spherical or egg-shaped grains which are necessary for plant fertilization. While pollen allergy usually takes place during childhood or young adulthood, it may develop at any age. At least two seasons of exposure to a pollen are generally necessary.
Pollen allergy symptoms
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis, the most frequent form of pollen allergy, are familiar to many. Sneezing is the most common, but nasal discharge and congestion, itchy eyes, nose and throat, and watery eyes are observed. The pollen enters the nose, and is moved through the mucous to the throat where it is swallowed or coughed out.
Once the pollen is deposited on the mucous membranes of an allergic person, an immediate reaction occurs. Sensitizing antibodies in tissues directly under the membranes cause cells to release certain chemicals. One of these, histamine, dilates the many small blood vessels in the nose. Fluid escaping through the expanded vessel walls leads to swelling of the nasal passages and nasal congestion.
What pollens are allergic?
Not all pollens cause allergy. People often think that pollens of colorful, scented flowers like roses or goldenrod are the source of their allergy. This is true only for people like gardeners or florists, who spend a lot of time close to these flowers. In general, tree, grass and weed pollens are the most frequent causes of pollen allergy.
Among plants of allergic importance, trees pollinate earliest, generally from February or March until April or May. Grass pollinates from May until mid-July. Weeds usually pollinate in late summer.
Pollen allergy treatment
How to cure pollen allergy? Three methods are available – avoidance of the allergen, medications and immunotherapy, sometimes called allergy shots by the general public. Such treatment will generally provide significant treatment from the symptoms of allergy, although no actual cure has yet been found. Some people move to avoid allergies only to find that they are allergic to a different allergen in their new location.
Air filters and air conditioning usually help to clear many allergens from the air. During pollinating periods, the allergic person should avoid exposure to respiratory infections and to non-specific irritants such as dust, insect sprays, tobacco smoke, air pollution and fresh paint or tar. Any of these may aggravate the symptoms of pollen allergy.
For those rhinitis victims for whom partial or complete avoidance of pollen does not work, medications, such as antihistamines, will control many symptoms. As their name indicates, these preparations counter the effects of histamine and are therefore, most effective in combating sneezing, itching in the nose and throat, and nasal discharges.
Some nose drops and sprays are also useful in curing pollen allergy although one must be careful not to overuse them. Abuse of this form of medication may lead to “rebound congestion” in which further use only makes the symptoms worse. Commonly used sprays include Afrin and Neo-Synephrine. Commonly used anti-histamine tablets or capsules include Actifed, Chlor-Trimeton, Benadryl, Dimetane, Dimetapp, Triaminicin and stronger drugs on a prescription-only basis like Tavist and Seldane.
When both environmental control and medications are insufficient to alleviate and cure pollen allergy symptoms, immunotherapy, which is also called hyposensitization therapy, can be effective in bringing relief. These allergy shots attempt to increase the patient’s tolerance for the pollen to which he is allergic. This is accomplished by injecting diluted extracts of the troublesome pollen. It may take several years for a significant reduction of symptoms to take place.
Can complications occur?
In untreated cases of rhinitis resulting from pollen allergy, complications are possible and vary in severity. Sinusitis (an inflammation of the sinus cavities) and nasal polyps (small appendage-like groths in the nose) may develop in rhinitis patients. Secondary infections, especially those occurring in the ears, may also be serious problems.
The tendency toward allergies to environmental substances, such as pollen, sometimes leads to perennial allergic rhinitis, caused by non-seasonal allergens like house dust, molds or animal danders.
Asthma is another possible complication of untreated seasonal rhinitis. At the first sign of the wheezing and shortness of breath characteristic of this illness, a patient should seek treatment.