Spring in New York is here, and for many people that means it's time to suffer through seasonal allergies. Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is the fifth most common chronic illness in the U.S. It is estimated that about 20 percent of people in North America have hay fever, and its prevalence is on the rise. Although most people develop hay fever in childhood or early adulthood, it is possible to begin having symptoms later on in life.
Here are some basic facts to consider during allergy season
What are Seasonal Allergies?
When your immune system has an extreme response to a specific substance, it's called an allergy. Your body treats the substance as though it is harmful and starts producing antibodies in an attempt to destroy or expel it. Some people are sensitive to dust mites or pet dander. Others experience symptoms from substances that are more prevalent during certain times of the year.
Those who first noticed that their symptoms would increase during harvest season derived the common name "hay fever". Allergens specific to hay fever include mold spores and pollens from certain trees, grasses, and weeds. In the spring when everything begins to grow, the level of pollen and other organic allergens explodes, leaving millions of people with runny, itchy noses, watery eyes, and sinus pressure.
Signs and Symptoms:
Symptoms of hay fever include itching in the nose and throat, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, sinus pressure, headaches, and dark circles under the eyes. For many people, hay fever symptoms are manageable; for others, they can be severe, resulting in missed work and school days and chronic discomfort.
Prevention & Treatment:
If you are diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, the first step is to identify which specific substances trigger your immune system and take steps to reduce those substances in your environment. Common treatments include antihistamines, steroids, and decongestants. Many options are available over-the-counter, but if your symptoms are severe, you may want to consult an allergist.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may prescribe allergy shots, sublingual (under-the-tongue) tablets or medication. No matter what you are using, medication for hay fever is most effective if taken prior to exposure.
Here are some other ways to minimize your symptoms:
- If possible, stay indoors and keep windows closed when pollen levels are high.
- Wear sunglasses outdoors, and use a dust mask while doing yard work.
- Change the air filters in your home heating and cooling systems regularly.
- Don't dry laundry outdoors.
- Shower before bedtime to get rid of pollen buildup on your clothing and skin.
- Keep track of pollen levels: go to aaaai.org to view pollen levels in your area; or download the mobile app from pollen.com to check the pollen forecast in your city and track your symptoms using their allergy diary.
For many sufferers, spring is only the beginning; different types of pollens all the way through summer and fall can trigger hay fever symptoms. Take steps to keep your allergies under control this season, so you can celebrate spring, instead of curse it.
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