As spring starts to bloom in Boston, seasonal allergies start to appear again. An allergist in the Allergy Department at Tufts Medical Center, tells us how spring allergies can affect each of us differently and how they can effect individuals with asthma even more.
Why do spring/seasonal allergies happen?
Allergies happen when the body’s immune system becomes overly sensitive to otherwise harmless things in the environment, such as pollens. Exposure to these “allergens” causes allergy cells in the nose, eyes and other areas of the body to release chemicals that result in allergy symptoms, like sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny noses. Depending on what a person is allergic to, these symptoms might be worse in the spring, summer, or fall, when there are different pollens in the air. Some people might have symptoms all year if they are allergic to things that are always in the environment, like dust or animal danders.
How can you identify allergies vs. a cold?
Allergies often cause itching of the nose and eyes, which you don’t see in colds. Allergies also should not cause fevers or muscle aches.
What are the typical treatments for allergies?
The most common treatments include over-the-counter nasal sprays such as Flonase, Nasacort, etc. If used daily, they are effective in treating many different allergy symptoms. Allergy pills such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra can be helpful with sneezing and itching, but do not help much with stuffiness or congestion. For people with lots of eye itching and watering, allergy eye drops, either over-the-counter or prescription, can be very helpful.
There are also prescription nasal sprays and pills that we will sometimes use in the event that over-the-counter therapy isn’t enough. If you’re allergic to something in your home, like dust, we often discuss allergen-reducing measures you can perform to decrease your exposure, like allergen bedcovers and using vacuums with appropriate filters. Finally, some people will choose to go on immunotherapy, otherwise known as “allergy shots,” which is a long-term treatment that helps make your body less sensitive to the things that you’re allergic to. In some people, this can lead to great improvement or even remission of allergy symptoms.
What are the allergens that are in the air during the spring vs. other seasons?
Tree pollens are most commonly found in air in the spring time, while grass pollen is most prevalent in the summer time, and weed pollen is most common in the fall. People may also be allergic to things that are found year-round, such as dust mites and animal danders.
Are people with asthma more susceptible to allergies?
Yes, and environmental allergies can often be a trigger for an asthma attack. It’s very important for anyone with asthma and allergies to make sure that both issues are being treated fully to keep this from happening!
What are some symptoms of asthma?
Asthma causes many symptoms, the most common being coughing, a sensation of chest tightness, or wheezing, which is a high-pitched whistling sound you might hear while breathing. Many people with asthma can have trouble with exercise or exertion, or may even find themselves waking up at night with symptoms.
What allergies cause asthma?
Any allergies can trigger an asthma attack. It’s also important to know that children who have allergies are more likely to develop asthma.
I think I might have allergies or asthma. What’s the next step?
We check for allergies by performing skin testing, where we apply small amounts of allergens to your skin and evaluate for a reaction. The test checks for many different types of pollens, as well as molds, animal danders, dust, and more. Based on your results, we can help you figure out what treatments would work best for you. Asthma is diagnosed with a breathing test we perform in the office or in a breathing laboratory. This test can also help us figure out how severe your asthma is.