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Hay Fever, Allergic Rhinitis, Pollinosis: What is it Really & What Can I do About it?

     I haven't seen any hay growing in my back yard, or any straw either for that matter.  And if it were, I'm sure it wouldn't be feverish.  It's not that hot out yet.  So why is everyone sneezing?  As the story goes, hay got a bad wrap as an allergen from days gone by when farming was a major profession.  Hay very rarely is an allergen and hay fever does not cause a fever.  It was just coincidental that pollens were in the air at the time when farmers were working on the farm in the hay fields and pollen allergies became known as hay fever. Once specific to grasses only, it has now become an umbrella term for other plant pollens as well.  Hay fever is also known as allergic rhinitis or pollinosis.  So the next time someone asks you if your hay fever is bothering you, you can say no, it's just my pollinosis.


     Allergies are caused by wind-pollinated plants.  Fortunately, flowers are usually pollinated by insects and normally do not cause allergies. Exceptions to this are the heavy pollen flowers: chrysanthemums, sunflowers, daisies, and jasmine.  These types should not be planted near windows to prevent pollen from blowing indoors on windy days.  Trees, grass, and weeds are the most likely culprits of outdoor allergies. Generally, trees release their pollens in spring, grasses in summer, and weeds in the fall. Precise dates vary every season dependent upon current weather conditions. Fungi and mold spores tend to peak during midsummer to fall, although heavy spring rains and warmer weather can bring on an allergy attack.  The male part of the plant, or stamen, produces the yellow, dust like pollen.  It causes our immune system to mistake a harmless substance for a harmful one. Thrown into overdrive, it produces antibodies and releases histamines as a self defense mechanism. Trees, grasses, and weeds release these pollen particles that are then blown into the air to fertilize other plants.  Even if you were able to remove all pollen allergen triggers in your yard or even your entire neighborhood, it might only be slightly beneficial.  Pollen can travel hundreds of miles in the wind.  

     Cold-like signs and symptoms may include runny or stuffy nose, red, itchy eyes, sneezing, sinus pressure, headache, or coughing. When symptoms persist on and off for months, you more than likely are not catching multiple colds.  Colds usually subside in a week to ten days.  It's probably an allergy.  How long your symptoms persist depends on which pollens or triggers you are allergic to. Eventually, these allergies may progress into asthma.  Spring, summer, and fall, symptoms could be any one of the many pollen or mold allergies.  When symptoms persist throughout winter, it's probably something indoors.  It could be mold growing from dampness in your house somewhere or a dust mite or chemical allergy.  See Dust mites and what you need to know.

     Some allergies can be exasperated by particular foods that we eat.  Springtime tree allergy sufferers should beware of apples, peaches and pears.  These foods that normally wouldn't cause any reaction at other times of the year, can further irritate the sensitive individual during the tree allergy season.  Those with grass allergies should be aware that celery is a grass and shouldn't be eaten during the summertime grass allergy season unless it is cooked. Trigger proteins found in raw foods break down with heat.  Melons can also trigger a response in the grass sensitive individual during this allergy season.    
     Ragweed symptoms in the fall may be even more pronounced when eating certain foods.  If you know you are sensitive to ragweed, the following foods should be avoided during ragweed season and even shortly before:  melons, bananas, raw honey with pollen, sunflower seed, zucchini and cucumbers.  They may be fine when cooked.

     Goldenrod blooms at the same time as ragweed.  It is not a significant allergen because it is insect-pollinated as opposed to wind-pollinated.  The bright yellow flowers in bloom are an indicator of the timing of ragweed pollination and serve as an alert to those who suffer from ragweed allergies.

     You may also want to try to avoid foods high in histamines as allergy season approaches.  These include avocados, chocolate, beer and wine, aged cheeses, and fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.

     Some foods can actually be beneficial during the ragweed allergy season.  Burdock root, dandelion, echinacea, nettle leaf, spirulina, green tea and licorice are just a few.  Available in tintures, teas, and capsules, they work by building up your immune system and suppressing histamines.  If you've never taken these before, use caution in the event you are allergic to one of them.  It is best to begin well before the allergy season starts so your body has time to build immunities.  For congestion try chili pepper, horseradish, wasabi or garlic.  These are all foods that act as a decongestant.

     Another thing you can do is try to avoid outdoor morning excursions between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.  This is the time of the day when the highest pollen rates occur.  The later in the day you go outside the better.  So try to plan outdoor activities in late afternoon or early evening whenever possible.

     Sorry to say, but it is a good time to increase the vacuuming and dusting regime.  Always use a vacuum or air filter with hepa filters to trap the very fine pollen and dust particles that might otherwise escape.  Dusting should be done with a slightly damp cloth or natural furniture polish to prevent particles from escaping back into the air.  

     At the beginning of a known pollen allergy season you should close your windows and turn on the air conditioning if needed.  This is also a good time to change the air filters.

     When gardening you can wear a particle mask to prevent inhalation of pollens.  To prevent eye allergies, redness, swelling, watering, you could wear wrap around eye protection like goggles. Your neighbors might laugh at you, but when you are done you'll feel a whole lot better and breathe easier the rest of the day.

     If none of these things provide any relief you might have to resort to over the counter antihistamines and decongestants.  When you've had enough, a trip to the allergist doctor might be useful if your allergies are severe. They will try to find out just what it is that's aggravating you and possibly desensitize you to the offending agent. There's a new experimental form of oral desensitization called Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) thats been being studied in Europe for many years.  Instead of the injections used with Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SKIT) the allergen extract is administered orally under the tongue of the patient.  Although it is commonly used in Europe and Asia, it is not yet FDA approved in the U.S.  Some U.S. doctors do offer this treatment. You will have to investigate further to find out if it is available in your area.



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