Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and pollen is stirring. Spring is certainly in the air, and for some of us, our sinuses are paying for it. The yellow powdery substance is released to help other plants thrive, but it has the opposite effect on someone who suffers from allergies. More commonly known as hay fever, seasonal allergic rhinitis is often caused by pollen. And according to the American Academy of Asthma & Immunology, nearly 8% of adults in the United States suffer from it. So, what puts you at risk, and what can you do about it? Let’s explore some of the top spring allergy questions.
What’s the Difference Between Allergies and Hay Fever?
Hay fever is caused by your body’s allergic response to indoor or outdoor allergens, like pollen. “Your body is recognizing these pollens or foreign allergens as a threat. In response, your body is overactive or hypersensitized to produce IgE antibodies to fight back,” says Dr. Mani Kukreja. When these IgE antibodies come in contact with the allergens, they produce the chemical enzyme histamine, which causes allergic symptoms such as wheezing, itching, runny nose, or watery eyes.
How Do You Know if It’s Allergies or a Cold?
Hay fever is a chronic allergic reaction that’s often mistaken for a cold because the symptoms are so similar. How it starts and how long it lasts are two significant indicators to differentiate between them. According to Dr. Mani, since histamines are produced when your body has an allergic reaction, itching, whether itchy eyes or nose, is likely to be one of your first symptoms. Whereas when you have a cold, your body is fighting an infection, and a fever develops. It’s also important to note that a common cold typically lasts 7 to 10 days, and allergies can be a problem for 2 to 3 weeks.
Are Allergies Genetic or Environmental?
Genetic and environmental factors go hand-in-hand. One study even states that there is clear evidence to support allergies are influenced by genetic predisposition and environmental exposure. “Your genes and genetic makeup play a big role in your allergies,” says Dr. Mani, “If one parent has allergies, the child is 33% more likely to have allergies. If both parents have allergies, that possibility increases to nearly 70%.” But that doesn’t mean you are doomed solely because your parent(s) have allergies. Your environment makes a big impact on how your immune system reacts to allergens. Frequent or constant exposure to allergens such as dust, pet dander, mold, and even cockroaches can play a role in developing allergies.
How Can I Protect Myself From Allergies?
Dr. Mani’s 4 pillars for building strong immunity are essential for fighting against allergies. Another key is avoiding the things in life that trigger histamine production, whether the allergens are in the air or your food. There are also things you can do to control and prevent the symptoms yourself before opting for more permanent treatments:
1. Take an oral antihistamine
If you know you’re sensitive to seasonal allergens, start taking over-the-counter allergy medication before symptoms appear. Oral antihistamines are an effective way to block histamine production, and studies have shown that people do not build resistance to these medications. Steroid nasal sprays are also safe when used on a seasonal basis.
2. Avoid exposure to allergens
Pollen count typically rises in the morning, making the start of the day a red zone for getting outside. If possible, it’s best to stay indoors in the morning if pollen is an allergy trigger. However, if you need to go outdoors, wear a hat or glasses to avoid exposure to your eyes or hair. Pollen.com is a great resource for tracking the pollen count where you live.
3. Choose your diet carefully
Certain foods can irritate your immune system and cause allergies. According to Dr. Mani, spicy foods can actually over-activate your immune system, making your body more susceptible to allergy symptoms, and tomatoes act as histamines. Milk and dairy products, and alcohol should also be avoided as they can thicken mucus and increase production. On the contrary, foods such as pineapple and honey have the reverse effect and are good options for reducing mucus production. Quercetin food sources like onions and parsley can also help provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
4. Take a probiotic
Taking a probiotic is a great way to support your microbiome and systemic health. Because we live in a very clean and aseptic environment, we’re less exposed to things that increase microbial diversity. “The more diverse the microbiome, the less prone you’ll be to develop seasonal allergies or allergies of any kind,” says Dr. Mani. While more research is needed, one study found that probiotics may have an important role in preventing and treating allergic rhinitis. That study also found that L. rhamnosus and L. acidophilus are some of the best probiotics for allergies.
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