By Wendy Henrichs
Board Certified Nutrition Counselor and Chiropractic Pediatrician
Spring is in the air here in the Northwoods and so are the spring allergens. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) over half of Americans (more than 50 million people) are allergic to one or more allergens. The AAAI also reports that allergies may cost Americans close to $8 billion a year in costs related to care and decreased productivity at work. If you are one of the millions of people like me who have seasonal allergies then you can relate to the cold-like symptoms of runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, sneezing and general malaise. This article will discuss some common causes and symptoms of seasonal allergies as well as different forms of prevention and treatment.
Allergens can be inhaled, ingested, or enter through the skin. Common allergic reactions, such as hay fever (seasonal allergies), certain types of asthma, and hives are linked to an antibody produced by the body called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Each IgE antibody can be very specific, reacting against certain pollens and other allergens. In other words, a person can be allergic to one type of pollen, but not another. When a susceptible person is exposed to an allergen, the body starts producing a large quantity of similar IgE antibodies. The next exposure to the same allergen may result in an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction will vary depending on the type and amount of allergen encountered and the manner in which the body’s immune system reacts to that allergen. Hormones, stress, smoke, and other environmental irritants may also play a role in the development and/or severity of allergies.
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis can range from mild to severe. In addition, many people with hay fever suffer from asthma as well. The most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
• runny or stuffy nose
• watery eyes
• itchy sinuses, throat, eyes, or ear canals
• ear congestion
• postnasal drainage
• general malaise
Less common symptoms may include: headache, shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing.
Seasonal allergies are most often linked to the spring and fall, but can really occur anytime of the year.
Spring – Trees are responsible for most springtime seasonal allergies. Birch is the main offender in the northern latitudes, with between 15 and 20 percent of hay fever sufferers affected by its pollen. Other allergy producing trees in North America include cedar, alder, horse chestnut, willow, and poplar. The snow mold that comes with the spring thaw is common in our area as well.
Summer – Hay fever gets its name not from an allergy to hay, but from the fact that many people are afflicted at about the same time as the historical hay-cutting season during the summer months. The real culprits of summertime seasonal allergies are grasses such as ryegrass and Timothy-grass, along with certain weeds. Some 90 percent of hay fever sufferers react to grass pollens, making them the most notorious allergens on the planet.
Fall – Fall is ragweed season. Also known as Ambrosia, there are more than 40 species of ragweed worldwide, most occurring in temperate regions in North and South America. The invasive weeds themselves are difficult to control and symptoms of ragweed allergy can be especially severe. Other plants that drop their pollen in the fall include nettles, mugworts, sorrels, and fat hens
Winter – By winter, most outdoor allergens lie dormant. While the cold weather may bring much-needed relief to many millions of people with hay fever, it also means more folks are spending time indoors. For those prone to seasonal allergies, outdoor allergens are simply replaced by indoor ones such as mold, pet dander, and dust mites. Fortunately for sufferers of these types of allergies commonly known as perennial allergic rhinitis, are easier to remove from the environment than their wind-driven counterparts.
No matter what the season, one of the best ways to fight allergies is with prevention. Here are some prevention tips:
• Spend time indoors when pollen and mold counts are high.
• Keep windows closed to keep the pollen out, especially in your bedroom.
• Use air conditioning if you have it.
• Use high efficiency filters on your furnace and air-conditioning changing them monthly.
• Use a portable HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter in your bedroom.
• Take a shower or bath after spending time outside to remove pollen and other allergens.
• Change your clothes after being outside.
• Wash bedding at least once a week in very hot water to help get rid of dust mites and other allergy triggers.
• Get rid of carpets and upholstered furniture.
• Vacuum 1-2 times weekly with a HEPA filter vacuum.
• Cover bedding and pillows with allergen-proof covers.
• Fix any water leaks and clean up water damage that may produce mold.
• Clean moldy surfaces and any places mold may form including in humidifiers, and air conditioners-white vinegar works great!
• Use a dehumidifier in basements and other damp areas where mold could grow, and be sure to clean them once a week.
• Wipe off surfaces that you touch often such as computer keyboards, smartphone and IPads, countertops, furniture, door handles and appliances
The most common seasonal allergies treatments are designed to treat the symptoms. They include oral antihistamines, oral decongestants, nasal sprays and antihistamine-decongestant combination medications. Rinsing your nasal passages with a saline solution is a quick, inexpensive and effective way to relieve nasal congestion. This flushes out mucous and allergens from your nose. You can get a neti-pot from your local pharmacy or health food store.
There are several natural or holistic treatments that have proven effective in combating allergies. These include, but are not limited to:
• Chiropractic adjustments
• Homeopathic formulas
• Probiotics – (Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus planetarum)
you suffer from seasonal allergies or allergies in general, prevention along with conventional and/or non-conventional treatments are your best defense.
Dr. Wendy Henrichs is a board certified chiropractor and nutrition counselor at Timber Land Chiropractic in Rhinelander. For more information, TimberlandChiropractic.com, Facebook, or call 715-362-4852.