An allergy is the immune system’s response to an allergen that the body perceives as harmful. In many cases, the allergen may be harmless, but a hypersensitive immune system may react to the allergen through a defensive attack. Seasonal changes can often trigger an allergic reaction, leading to allergy symptoms. These occur at specific times of the year (generally spring and fall) and differ from chronic allergies that exist throughout the year (like allergies to dust mites or cats). The most common allergen that can trigger a reaction is pollen.
Pollen and grass are widely believed to be the main cause of seasonal allergies. Pollen is tiny grains that are released by flowering plants. They are carried by wind or insects to other plants to bring about cross-pollination leading to fertilization. Pollen that is carried by wind sometimes enters the eyes, nose, or throat and triggers an allergic reaction. Although it is essentially harmless, in some cases, the immune system views these as agents of infection and launches defensive measures to counter what it perceives as threats.
Since pollen is the main trigger (though not the only one) of seasonal allergies, most of the signs will begin to show when winter eases into spring, and summer fades into fall. These allergies are also known medically as allergic rhinitis and commonly as hay fever. The pollen that triggers the reaction will vary from season to season. In spring, trees like oak, elm, maple, juniper, and birch are the culprits. In summer, it’s generally grass and weeds while in fall, ragweed is often responsible. The typical symptoms that will manifest are as follows:
- Runny nose
- Watery, red eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy throat
- Wheezing (generally seen in asthma patients)
In certain cases where the severity of the allergy is greater, the reaction may result in a more serious series of manifestations, although this is typically rare. Additional complications may cause irritability, inability to concentrate, and sleep disorders linked with sleep deprivation. However, most often, medication will bring relief fairly quickly.
Treatment and Prevention
Over-the-counter medication can help ease the most common manifestations of hay fever. Antihistamines are generally helpful and are commonly available. Decongestants help in providing relief from nasal congestion and may be taken in the form of drops, pills, or sprays. For more severe reactions, you may be prescribed a medication that combines an antihistamine with a decongestant for effective relief.
If you’re prone to seasonal allergies, it is best to take certain preventive measures to avoid developing them altogether. If you’re keen to go natural, you could try some home remedies for allergy relief. The following are some preventive measures that you can take:
- Stay indoors as far as possible on days that are dry and windy. Pollen and dust settle after rains. This is the best time to go out.
- Use a dehumidifier to keep the indoor air dry.
- Pollen count is highest in the morning. So, restrict outdoor activities as much as possible during this time.
- Avoid drying your laundry in the open, because pollen may stick to your clothes and cause irritation.
- Take preventive medication when pollen count forecasts are high.
Although a change in season is welcome for most, it signals the onset of a slew of reactions for some. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and enough sleep may ensure that you don’t have to rely on the manifestations of hay fever to warn you of a weather change.