If you’re dreading allergy season in Wyoming this fall, you’re not alone. Wyomingites live to take advantage of the fall weather to enjoy the natural beauty of our state, which also increases exposure to environmental allergens. However, the incidence of allergic reactions is hardly confined to Wyoming as it is estimated that 20% of people worldwide suffer allergy-related symptoms on a regular basis.
How Allergies Affect the Body
Allergies occur when your body mounts a hypersensitive immune response to typically harmless environmental substances. Environmental allergies usually occur from contact with airborne particles or physical contact with a plant or other irritant. Following exposure to an allergic stimulus, susceptible individuals experience an immune response that involves the release of antibodies that bind to cells, triggering the release of inflammatory chemicals like histamine. Histamine is responsible for the classic symptoms of allergic reactions, including a runny nose and watery eyes. As allergens bind to cells in mucous membranes they cause sneezing, increased mucus production, and sinus congestion. Histamine is also responsible for the itching sensation associated with skin irritation and rashes.
Common Allergic Triggers
Allergic reactions arise in areas of the body that come in contact with air, such as the eyes, nose, sinuses and lungs. Symptoms vary individually but commonly include some combination of sneezing, sinus congestion, runny nose, redness and itching of the eyes, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, ear pressure, rashes, and stomach pain.
The most common environmental allergies are triggered by pollen, which is highly concentrated in spring and marked by the appearance of bright yellow pollen. In the fall, ragweed is the most common cause of allergies and is worse when nights are cool and days are warm and dry. Other common causes of environmental allergic reactions result from exposure to dust and dust mites, pet and animal dander, and mold.
Asthma is a reactive airway disease characterized by episodes of difficulty breathing and often triggered by environmental allergens. As a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow and swell, it becomes difficult to breathe. Rescue inhalers that treat acute symptoms and control inhalers that prevent symptoms can be effective in reducing the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.
Many allergy sufferers initially treat their symptoms without a doctor’s guidance. In addition to avoiding substances that trigger allergic reactions, a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to reduce symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamine medications like Benadryl, Zyrtec and Claritin may be effective for seasonal allergies by blocking or minimizing the release of histamine.
Saline sprays can calm sinus irritation and local raw honey taken regularly may help increase tolerance to pollen. At home, keeping windows closed and using air purifiers and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in heating and ventilation systems can reduce allergen exposure. Keeping your house clean and minimizing dust and dander accumulation as well as using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can also decrease allergen exposure.
In the fall, allergic reactions can be reduced by tracking pollen counts, avoiding being outside during peak ragweed hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), changing clothes and washing hands after being outside, and not hanging clothes to dry. Avoiding foods with similar proteins to ragweed may also help, including bananas, melons, sunflower seeds, and chamomile tea.
Individuals who have not been successful treating allergy symptoms on their own often seek out medical attention. When seeking medical assistance, you can request a referral to see Dr. Freeman, Memorial Hospital’s ENT and allergist specialist! Dr. Freeman specializes in the management and treatment of allergies and has various options to manage allergy-related symptoms.
Treating allergies effectively requires accurately identifying problematic allergens, usually through allergy testing. Skin prick and blood tests are two commonly used diagnostic tools used to accurately identify a patient’s specific environmental triggers. Allergies can change over time, necessitating regular testing to ensure management remains as effective as possible.
Comprehensive approaches to symptom management include allergen immunotherapy or allergy shots, which involves exposing patients to gradually increasing amounts of specific allergens in an effort to alter the body’s immune response. Though evidence is currently lacking regarding efficacy for seasonal allergies, it is an area that may yield breakthroughs in the near future.
Some patients may seek alternative medical approaches such as enzyme-potentiated desensitization (EPD) and homeopathic treatments, though they are not currently accepted as effective. It is a good idea to consult your doctor before beginning any new medical approach.
The fall brings many amazing outdoor experiences to residents and visitors to our state, some of which have been enjoyed for generations. While seasonal allergies have often been accepted as unavoidable, Wyomingites can rejoice knowing there are many options to alleviate or even eliminate suffering this fall.
If you or someone in your family are suffering the onset of seasonal allergies and would like to learn more about treatment options, you can make an appointment with Dr. Frederick Freeman, Memorial Hospital’s ENT and allergist specialist, by calling 307-358-7300.