For some, season changes and warm weather can bring itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion and even difficult breathing: symptoms of allergies.
For over 50 million Americans, seasonal allergies may prevent them from enjoying the spring, summer and fall months.
An allergy means that our immune system produces an antibody (IgE) against an otherwise harmless element in our environment.
Common spring allergens in Central Minnesota include trees such as birch, ash, oak, maple, and hickory which will cause allergy symptoms as they pollinate, typically occurring in mid-March until late May.
Unfortunately, as tree pollen dissipates, we begin grass season, which begins in early May and lasts until early June. While late June and July may provide allergy sufferers with a brief respite to their symptoms, this relief is often short-lived as we progress into weed season.
Common ragweed as well as other weeds such as lambsquarters, pigweed, sagebrush and English plantain pollinate mid-August until the first frost. Seasonal changes can also increase outdoor mold activity, producing literally billions of airborne spores which can trigger similar symptoms.
Rural residents may sometimes consider relocating to a more urban environment, but pollen can travel over 300 miles so even such drastic moves may prove futile.
Most allergy sufferers require daily medications which may include antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops, decongestants or even sinus rinses.
For patients who do not receive adequate relief from their daily medication regimens, allergy shots can provide long term, permanent treatment of their seasonal allergies.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) have been successfully used for well over 100 years and help the body develop a protective antibody (IgG) against the various allergens many people suffer from such as pollens, pets, and dust mites.
While immunotherapy requires a significant time commitment - shots may need to be continued on a regular basis for three to five years - the time commitment is well worth it, as most will receive nearly lifelong improvement in their allergy symptoms.
Individuals with asthma often will experience more symptoms during times of season change due to increased allergen exposure as well as frequent weather fluctuations.
If you have a history of allergy induced asthma, now is a perfect time to check in with your doctor to assure your asthma is under optimal control before the weather changes and to assure you have plenty of refills for the spring, summer and fall.
It is imperative to take your physician-prescribed controller asthma medication on a regular basis before the weather is expected to warm up to assure good asthma control.
Allergies can cause more than sneezing and itchy eyes; warm weather also brings out stinging insects that can cause severe anaphylaxis or even death for some individuals. In the Midwest, we have five stinging insects that can cause anaphylaxis, including: yellow jackets, white-faced hornets, yellow-faced hornets, wasps and the honeybee.
Anaphylaxis resulting from a sting can cause a person to experience difficult breathing, hives, itching, throat swelling, drop in blood pressure and even loss of consciousness; individuals experiencing these symptoms after a sting need immediate medical attention.
People with a history of this type of reaction to a sting should carry a minimum of two doses of injectable epinephrine, which is the only medication that can prevent an episode of anaphylaxis from progressing.
These people should also undergo allergy testing for the five stinging insects mentioned. Stinging insect allergy can also be treated with allergy shots, which can greatly reduce the risk of anaphylaxis and death with subsequent stings. It should be noted that although a large amount of swelling at the site of a sting can be painful and dramatic, it alone is not typically an indication for allergy testing or shots.
As winter draws to a close and we look forward to longer days, allergy sufferers may feel they are destined for weeks or even months of misery, however with new medications and other therapies available we should all be able to get out and enjoy the warm weather!
For an appointment with Dr. Minto Porter, Allergy and Asthma Specialist at Essentia Health St. Joseph’s - Brainerd Clinic, call 218-828-2880.