If you are one of the 40 million Americans with seasonal allergies, you know far too well how taxing allergy season can be. Between the runny noses, swollen nostrils, post-nasal drip and watery eyes, millions of Americans are routinely put through the mill for weeks at a time. Despite decades of advances in the field of medicine, allergies continue to be a thorn in the side of the people across the world. As if allergies weren’t already a big enough issue, there is now reason to believe that seasonal allergies are becoming an even more pervasive problem.
The Common Culprits behind Allergies
If you are fortunate enough to be allergy-free, you might be wondering what foreign substances trigger allergy symptoms. Below is a list of some of biggest causes of annual allergy flare-ups, with brief descriptions of each perpetrator.
Mold – Simply put, mold is fungi that grow on food, plants and the walls of houses. Molds are neither plants nor animals; they can be best classified as microscopic organisms that grow in warm, moist environments. Mold can spread by consuming old food, or it can feast on wood, paint, fabrics, adhesives or paper. Allergy-inducing indoor mold can be found on a wide variety of surfaces inside your home, such as basement walls, bathroom tiles or damp carpets.
Pollen – Pollen can make a strong case for being Public Enemy No.1 for allergy sufferers. It is indeed a quirk of nature that pollen has developed such a notorious reputation. The actual purpose of pollen is to fertilize plants, allowing them to produce seeds for a new generation of plant life.
The problem is that pollen relies on very inefficient delivery systems to reach its end target. Pollen is often released by plants into the air, which it turn carries it to specific other plants, allowing for the fertilization process to begin. Of course, air currents can send pollen in all sorts of directions, scattering this substance onto unsuspecting people. This is no big deal for those without allergies; for people who are allergic to pollen, the story is quite different.
Ragweed – As bad as pollen might be, ragweed may give a good run for its money when it comes to making life miserable to allergy sufferers. This plant produces large amounts of pollen, usually unleashing large payloads in the opening weeks of autumn.
Dust Mites – Like mold, dust mites are usually found lurking inside the confines of your home. Unlike mold, dust mites are actually tiny bugs, completely invisible to the naked eye. It would be a gross understatement to claim that the typical house contains a lot of dust mites; tens of thousands of dust mites can take up residence in just a single mattress.
As you might expect, the subject of dust mites doesn’t make for pleasant reading. These microscopic creatures feast on a steady diet of dead human skin cells. Given that humans shed 10 grams of skin cells per week, dust mites are never at a loss for food. Consequentially, dust mites have a very active digestive system, producing over 20 waste droppings each day. It is these droppings, not the dust mites themselves, which trigger allergic reactions in people.
Allergic Reactions and the Body
So why is pollen, ragweed, dust mites feces and various forms of mold so troublesome for people? Is it because these substances are inherently dangers to the human body? The answer is no – on their own, none of these things are dangerous to your health. The problem is, many people’s bodies think they are, and overreact noticeably as a result.
An allergic reaction begins when the body’s white blood cells produce antibodies in response to allergy-causing substances, known as allergens. Antibodies are proteins tasked by your body with destroying foreign invaders. To accomplish these tasks, antibodies call upon mediators, hormones and chemicals that are stored within the body. Essentially, antibodies use these mediators as weapons for destroying bacteria and viruses.
While these mediators are usually effective in defeating threats to your body, they often cause very unpleasant side effects. A prime example of these unwanted consequences is the release of histamine, a chemical that causes the nose’s nasal passages to fill up with runny, clear mucus. Histamine can also cause nasal tissue to swell, making it very difficult for the afflicted person to breathe through his or her nose.
Longer Allergy Seasons, More Suffering
When it comes to seasonal allergies, allergy sufferers can pretty much pinpoint when their symptoms will return. For example, ragweed plants in US tend to release their pollen in August, and continue to do so at a steady clip into the month of October. Though this pattern may vary depending on location – the ragweed season tends to begin and end earlier in the northern US – people allergic to ragweed can reasonably predict when their allergies will return with a vengeance.
Imagine the implications, then, if the various allergy seasons began to drag on for longer periods of time. A 2011 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that significant areas of the US are experiencing longer ragweed seasons. Specifically, the ragweed season in these areas had increased by 13 to 27 days since the year 1995. This wasn’t the only recent study to come to such a conclusion. At the 2010 annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), researchers reported that the some pollen seasons had increased in duration from 1981 through 2007.
For both of these studies, the environment appeared to be the cause of longer allergy seasons. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concluded that a later onset of the area’s first frost prolonged ragweed seasons. Likewise, the report presented at the AAAAI conference attributed its findings to a increase in average temperatures.
Research also suggests that allergies may be affecting a growing number of people. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 54 percent of Americans suffered from allergies between the years 1988 and 1994. The same organization reported that this figure represented a 200 to 500 percent increase from the years 1976 and 1980. There also appears to be similar problem with regards to food allergies in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that number of children with diagnosed food allergies rose by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
Minimizing Your Risk
Allergies might be a bigger problem than ever, but that doesn’t mean that allergy sufferers are doomed to suffer allergy flare-ups for weeks on end. If you struggle with seasonal allergies, taking some sound precautions can help you make it through allergy season relatively unscathed.
Blockade Your House From Pollen – Pollen seeps into houses through all the obvious routes, such as open windows, screen doors and air conditioning vents. Windows and doors can simply be closed. While it’s not possible to prevent pollen from using your air conditioner as a doorway to your home, you can still regularly clean your air conditioner’s vents.
Pay The Drugstore a Visit – Over the last several decades, a number of over-the-counter allergy medications have been introduced into the market. These medications are often specifically made to treat certain allergy symptoms. For example, antihistamines are used for treating runny noses with swollen nasal passages. Decongestants, on the other hand, can help clear up nasal passages that have been clogged up by mucus. Of course, it is always advisable to consult with your doctor before starting any new medications, for allergies or otherwise.
Become Acquainted With Salt Water – It may seem a bit hokey at first – clearing up your irritated sinuses with salt water? As strange as it may seem, salt water actually has a respectable track record when it comes to alleviating allergy symptoms. To avoid prolonged bouts with their allergies, many rely on saline nasal sprays to mitigate allergy symptoms.
Saline nasal sprays usually consist of salt, water and perhaps a few other ingredients. Once inside the nose, this salt water-based product works to moisturize the nasal passages and dislodge stubborn mucus. As an added bonus, saline nasal sprays do not cause any discernable side effects, such as drowsiness.
Upon Getting Home, Change Out of Your Clothes – During allergy season, its very easy to pick up some allergen stowaways while walking around outside. Change into a new set of clothes once you get home, and put your pollen-covered clothes into the hamper to be washed later on. Any pollen stragglers still clinging to your hair and body can be easily eliminated with a quick, warm shower before bedtime.
“Mask” Your Vulnerabilities – It can be very challenging to avoid outdoor activities completely during allergy season. After all, someone has to rake all the leaves in your front and back yards. The solution to this problem might seem bizarre, but it is nonetheless entirely practical – allergy masks. Allergy masks cover both the nose and mouth, and can allow you to move about your yard without aggravating your allergies.
The proceeding article was written by an employee of Natural Knowledge 24/7.