Montefiore Expert Provides Tips on Symptoms to Watch, How to Find Relief
The weather might still be cold, but it’s not too early to start preparing for spring allergy season, which has already just begun. An estimated 35 million Americans suffer from allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. More commonly called hay fever, seasonal allergic irritation results in symptoms that include itchy eyes, nose and throat, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, tearing or dark circles under the eyes.
“In the early spring, trees are the first to start producing pollen as soon as they start budding, and it creates major problems for people with allergies,” said David Rosenstreich, M.D., director of the allergy and immunology division at Montefiore Medical Center. “The symptoms people experience often resemble a common cold, but, if it happens every year at this time, it’s most likely allergies.”
An allergy symptom is the result of the immune system overreacting. It mistakes the pollen for a foreign invader and attacks it, which leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. The histamine travels through the blood and latches onto histamine receptors on other cells, causing them to swell. This inflammation causes many familiar allergy symptoms.
People with asthma are especially affected by allergies and may have asthma attacks, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Asthma is often triggered by allergies; however most people with allergies do not develop asthma.
Over-the-counter medications often make people experiencing allergies feel better, but if they experience difficulty breathing or the symptoms become more severe, they should seek medical attention. Antihistamine drugs work by blocking the histamine from affecting these cells. Additionally, a physician can prescribe more potent medications.
“By taking medicine early, starting in mid- to late-February, you can prevent the symptoms before they start,” Dr. Rosenstreich said. “If you start after the symptoms are in full swing, it’s much harder to stop the allergic reaction than to prevent it from the beginning.”
In addition to medications, lifestyle changes also can help relieve symptoms. Several to consider include:
• Limiting outdoor activities during days with high pollen counts.
• Keeping windows closed (at home or in the car) to keep pollens out.
• Installing your air conditioners early, since they’re ideal for filtering the outside air that comes into your home.
• Washing your hair after coming indoors.
• Refraining from mowing lawns or raking leaves because this stirs up pollen and molds.
• Avoiding hanging sheets or clothes outside to dry.
There are generally three pollen seasons that vary in different parts of the country. Early spring is typically when trees pollinate, with birch, cedar, cottonwood and pine trees causing the biggest allergic triggers. Tree pollination in the Northeast typically lasts from late February to early June, but can be almost year-round in warmer climates. Grass pollen allergies typically arise in late spring, and weeds cause hay fever from the summer through the fall. Ragweed is often one of the biggest offenders in most regions, as it can grow in nearly every environment.
“There’s no reason for people with allergies to suffer,” Dr. Rosenstreich said. “As long as you take the proper precautions, you should be able to enjoy the outdoors and make the most of the warm weather.”
David L. Rosenstreich, M.D., is Board Certified in Allergy & Immunology and Internal Medicine, and is a professor in both the Department of Medicine and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology in the Department of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Rosenstreich has received many awards, including the Danziger Distinguished Scholar Award in Microbiology and Immunology and a Public Health Service Commendation for his work with the U.S. Public Health Service. As a scientific investigator, he has focused on the pathophysiology and etiology of allergic diseases, including asthma. Dr. Rosenstreich has authored or co-authored over 130 original research publications in peer-reviewed journals, and is the editor of three books. He is also the co-director of the Montefiore Severe Asthma Center, and has served as a consultant to the New York City Department of Health Citywide Asthma Initiative.