Ironically, the same budding trees and blooming flowers that give Kentucky its outdoor beauty trigger seasonal allergies, keeping people indoors where they’re unable to enjoy it. This year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America once again ranked central Kentucky as one of the top five most challenging places to live with spring allergies.
Twenty percent of Americans have either allergy or asthma symptoms, and allergies are among the leading chronic diseases in the U.S. Allergies can develop at any time in life, including adulthood.
Common allergy symptoms include a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, a sore throat and sneezing—and misery. Allergies are annoying, but they can become downright dangerous if you’re hit with a severe sneezing fit as you’re in heavy traffic on New Circle Road. Some people have to limit travel during allergy season, since a long flight in a pressurized airplane cabin with a stopped-up nose is so uncomfortable.
Something’s in the Air
What exactly causes allergy symptoms? Pollen and mold are two of the biggest culprits. Pollen are the minuscule grains that fertilize plants, and are spread in the air by insects, the wind, and human and animal carriers. Mold spores are tiny fungi that, like pollen, are airborne. Mold comes from plants, soil and wood. When we breathe them in, our body sees them as intruders and produces antibodies that travel to the cells, resulting in the chemical reactions that produce allergy symptoms like sneezing and dry eyes. We feel better on rainy, windless days because pollen doesn’t travel around as much in those conditions.
In central Kentucky, it’s hard to escape from allergens. During spring, we have tree and grass pollen, and in the late summer and fall, it’s weed pollen and mold. About 75 percent of people who have plant allergies are sensitive to ragweed, which is prevalent in Kentucky in the fall. Our famed bluegrass generates more pollen than any other U.S. grass.
The number of U.S. allergy cases has risen steadily, linked to an increase in pollen production that could be a result of climate change.
But take heart, seasonal sufferers. Fortunately, what’s also increasing are the options available for treating allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter treatments like pills, sprays and drops could be enough for mild symptoms. When they don’t do the trick, your primary care physician may be able to prescribe stronger medications.
Want to explore alternative treatments for your allergies? Acupuncture and meditation may decrease the stress hormones that cause nasal inflammation, and certain yoga poses can help increase your breathing capacity.
If you’ve got severe allergies, get to know an allergist. Local allergy clinics specialize in the unique conditions that make central Kentucky such a challenging place to live for allergy sufferers. Another reason to have a dedicated allergist: The cause and severity of allergies can change over time. Seeing an allergist regularly will allow them to monitor your condition and adjust your treatments to keep you continually feeling well.
Your Visit to the Allergist
Before your appointment, keep a diary about your symptoms and share it with your allergist. Record when they started, how long they’ve lasted, what factors seem to relieve them or make them worse. Note which medications you’ve used and what results you got. You may be asked to stop taking any current allergy medicine for a period of time before you come in order to get the most accurate test results.
During your visit, your allergist may perform skin-prick testing. This test is used to determine which specific things are causing your allergies. It allows your doctor to see if you have immediate allergic reactions to as many as 40 different substances, including pollen and mold. How you react and to what degree indicates what’s causing your allergies. You should be able to get the results of your test during the same visit. What you are (or aren’t) allergic to may surprise you!
Once your allergist has identified your unique allergens, they’ll recommend the personalized treatment that’s best for you, which could include lifestyle changes, medications or shots.
Your Best Shot at Relief
For many, allergy shots are the only treatment that provides relief, but they’re not a “one and done” solution. Your allergist will give you small doses of the substances that you’re allergic to in the form of ongoing injections. As your body slowly gets used to the allergens, your symptoms typically decrease. Generally, you will receive shots once or twice a week for a period of months. After your immunity is built up, you’ll go longer between shots, usually until you’re down to about one a month.
Allergy shots should be administered by a dedicated physician who will monitor your progress and reactions over the full course of treatment. While allergy shots can cause a remarkable improvement, they aren’t for everyone, and aren’t given to very young children or people with certain medical conditions. If you’re wondering if allergy shots could be an option for you or a family member, discuss it with your doctor.
Other allergy tips to try:
1. Avoid the outdoors from 5am to 10am when the pollen count is at its greatest. To get the daily pollen count forecast, check your local news or visit sites like pollen.com.
2. Install a HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Air) air filter. It cleans the air and removes airborne allergens. Golfing superstar Tiger Woods, who suffers from pollen allergies, uses air purifiers to keep from having to take strong medications that could impact his game before or during golf tournaments (below left to learn about more celebrity allergy sufferers).
3. Invest in a vacuum with a HEPA-rated filter. Better yet, replace carpet with hardwood floors, tile or linoleum. Fibers in carpet trap and hold allergens.
4. If your pets are allowed to go outdoors, keep them off the furniture, especially the bed. As wonderful as it is to cuddle with a furry friend, animals bring outdoor allergens into the house on their coats.
5. Switch to leather furniture. Leather upholstery doesn’t trap and contain allergens like cloth does, and it’s easier to clean. Remove throws and pillows which also trap allergens.
6. Opening the windows lets fresh air in, but it also allows pollen to enter your house. During allergy season, run your air conditioner with windows and doors closed instead. If that’s not an option, at least close the windows in the morning, when pollen counts are highest.
7. Keep car windows closed on your office commute, so you don’t kick off your work week with a runny nose!
8. Avoid fans, they just blow pollen all over the room and back into the air.