Allergy Season Is Here
What’s not to love about springtime? Days get warmer, flowers begin to bloom…and trees send forth trillions upon trillions of tiny yellow-green grains.
Here is one thing not to love: pollen! If you are one of the 18 million adults or 7 million children in the US who suffers from seasonal allergies, seasonal changes can mean itchy eyes, a runny nose, and constant sneezing. Inflammation of your nasal passages due to hay fever (the old-fashioned name for seasonal allergies) can lead to sinusitis. Pollen can also make asthma symptoms worse.
It isn’t just a springtime problem: Trees in North America release their pollen in the spring, grasses pollinate in the summer, and ragweed season hits in the fall.
Like IBD, asthma and seasonal allergies are becoming more and more common in the developed world. And there’s growing evidence that, as with Crohn’s and colitis, our increasingly “clean” environment is responsible.
It’s not surprising, then, that people with Crohn’s and colitis may be at increased risk of seasonal allergies. A handful of studies have suggested that atopy—an inherited tendency to develop allergies—as well as certain abnormalities in lung function occur more frequently in IBD patients.
As climate change throws the planet’s weather patterns off balance, allergy season is starting earlier than ever before, and lasting longer. For example, the mild winter of 2011–2012 meant grass pollen began appearing in the Northeast in late March of 2012—two months earlier than usual. In many parts of North America, ragweed season now lasts for a month longer than it did in 1995. Knowledge and planning are the keys to keeping your seasonal allergy symptoms in check. First, know what you’re allergic to. If you don’t think you have seasonal allergies, but suffer from the same bothersome cold-like symptoms at the same time every year, or if you have asthma and it seems to get worse in pollen season, talk to your primary care physician. He or she may decide to refer you to an allergist, who can perform allergy skin tests and determine what’s causing your symptoms.
Once you have this information, you can track pollen counts in your part of the world on the Internet; local weather forecasts also include information on daily pollen counts. When there’s lots of pollen in the forecast, you can take your allergy medication that morning—or even the night before.
Over-the-counter medications can help you handle hay fever symptoms, and may be all you need if your symptoms aren’t severe. Antihistamines, which ease watery eyes, itching, and sneezing, are the mainstay of seasonal allergy treatment. The newest generation of these drugs, like Claritin and Zyrtec, ease allergy symptoms without making you drowsy, which was a problem with older antihistamines like Benadryl. Decongestants such as Sudafed or Actifed may also be helpful.
For more severe seasonal allergies, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid nasal spray such as Nasonex or Flonase, which will help reduce inflammation in your nasal passages.
You can also use a neti pot or bulb syringe to rinse your sinuses and relieve congestion—just make sure you use boiled or distilled water.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology offers these tips for reducing pollen exposure:
• Keep windows closed as much as possible to prevent pollen from drifting into your home or office.
• Keep your car windows closed when traveling.
• The best time to be outdoors is when pollen levels are lower. This is typically on rainy, cloudy, and windless days.
• When gardening, avoid touching your eyes and face.
• Take a shower after spending time outside; pollen can collect on your hair and skin.
• Pay attention to pollen levels. Sign up for free e-mail alerts by visiting the National Allergy Bureau (NAB) (http://www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts.aspx).
For further information, call the Irwin M. and Suzanne R. Rosenthal IBD Resource Center (IBD Help Center): 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization’s resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.
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Published: March 24, 2014