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Tufts Public Health » Allergies, Prevention, Winter Health » Know your nose: seasonal allergies are in the air

Know your nose: seasonal allergies are in the air

allergiesAs another summer ends and back to school season begins, many of us are beginning to notice emerging symptoms of sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, scratchy throats, and congestion. The first day of fall is tomorrow, September 23rd, and with the warm daytime temperatures and cool night climate, ragweed and tree pollen are thriving at the expense of our immune systems.

Allergies in the fall?

Allergies are a growing public health issue affecting millions of Americans, and a risk factor for asthma. Approximately 50 million people in the US, 30% of adults and 40% of children, are affected by seasonal allergies. Although generally thought of as having a springtime onset, more than two-thirds of those who suffer from spring allergies have symptoms can persist all year round.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, are terms used to describe the symptoms of late summer and early fall allergies. Despite the name, hay fever involves no relation to hay and is asymptomatic of a fever. Fall allergies can be blamed on a wild plant known as ragweed- its characteristic pollen is the main culprit- that is endemic of the East Coast. According to American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), ragweed releases pollen when it blooms from August to November; the highest levels are prevalent in mid-September.

Weather and climate affect allergy season

We all recall last winter when Boston had a record-breaking 108.6 inches of snow, but we may not realize the correlation of weather and the high influx of pollen and ragweed allergies we are currently experiencing. The Telegraph expresses this phenomenon as, “from freezing to sneezing.” As Deborah Kotz explains in the Boston Globe, late and severe winters can delay blooming season, creating a more intense peak allergy season with multiple trees, grasses, and weeds blooming at the same time.

The overall warming trend we have experienced in the past decades has led to changes in severity and duration of allergy and pollen seasons, and with global warming on the rise we will likely see a higher incidence rate of allergy sufferers. In the meantime, we can stay informed, manage and treat allergies, and mitigate our exposure to allergens.

Looking for relief? Management and Treatment

If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, over the counter (OTC) antihistamines are a good place to start, but due to the sensitivity of specific allergens, they may not alleviate any or all symptoms. If that is the case, you should see an allergist for immunotherapy shots or a prescription nasal spray

To mitigate allergy exposure, you can:

  • Monitor the allergen forecast in your city
  • Keep windows in your home shut during allergy season
  • Stay inside midday and afternoon when pollen counts are at their peak
  • Take a shower and change clothes to eliminate residual pollen after being outdoors for an extended period of time

You can also try the following home remedies:

  • Local raw honey: theorized to aid your immune system in adapting to local allergens
  • Peppermint tea: not only does the steam help to clear your sinuses, the essential oils help as a natural decongestant
  • Eucalyptus oil: adding a few drops in the shower or a pot of simmering water makes breathing easier as the menthol and steam open nasal passages
  • Neti pot: A nasal rinse of saline solution flushes out residual pollen and breaks up mucus

How can you prepare for allergy season?

According to Flonase, preparation for allergy season begins with learning what you are allergic to in order to minimize your exposure. A keen eye on the weather and allergy forecast in your local area is helpful. You can check the daily allergy forecast here: http://www.accuweather.com/en/us/boston-ma/02108/allergies-weather/348735.

Information for this article was obtained on the The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s website. Visit them for more: http://acaai.org/news/four-things-you-might-not-know-about-fall-allergies and http://acaai.org/allergies/types/seasonal.

by Sara Suter, CHES, Tufts MPH candidate

Filed under: Allergies, Prevention, Winter Health

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