Spring in Vermont is one of the most magical times of the year. After the long winter, seeing the green grass, hearing the birds chirping and watching the flowers bloom brings a sense of happiness and rejuvenation. For those of us with allergies, though, the onset of spring can also bring with it a host of unpleasant symptoms.
An allergy is simply an overreaction of the body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance. This can be something you inhale, something you touch, or something you eat. More than 50 million Americans experience allergy symptoms each year, and allergies are ranked as the sixth most common chronic disease in the United States. Allergies can have seasonal peaks, such as in spring and fall, or be perennial, meaning year-round. Seasonal allergies are often referred to as hay fever, which is a bit of a misnomer, as it is not triggered by hay, nor does it produce a fever.
The spring allergy season in Vermont typically begins in late March and persists through the end of June. The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen. This is released by trees and grasses into the air in order to fertilize other plants. Exposure to these pollens in an allergic individual causes the body’s immune system to produce antibodies to attack the allergen. This leads to the unpleasant symptoms of allergies which include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, scratchy throat, fatigue, cough and blue swollen skin under the eyes. Some other, less common, symptoms of allergies are difficulty concentrating, asthma, sleep difficulties, exercise intolerance and upper respiratory infections. Allergy symptoms are one of the most common causes of absenteeism in the workplace.
While there is no cure for allergies, there are things you can do to minimize their impact. Most importantly, it is ideal to know what your triggers are so that a proper allergy plan can be developed. While there is no way to avoid grass and trees in Vermont, you can minimize your exposure by keeping your windows shut at night, planning outdoor activities in the evening when pollen is settling, monitoring local pollen counts and delegating gardening chores to others. There are a variety of medications available to help reduce the symptoms of allergic disease, including nasal sprays, antihistamines, decongestants and nasal rinses. Alternatively, allergy immunotherapy is a treatment designed to change how your immune system reacts to these allergens. Rather than treating the symptoms of allergies, immunotherapy aims to treat the disease process. This is typically done through weekly injections or drops under the tongue. It is best to discuss your allergy symptoms with your health-care provider to best tailor a treatment plan.
This week’s Health Talk column was written by Kerry Finch, MSPAS, PA-C, ENT, Otolaryngology at ENT & Audiology Care @802-775-3314 or www.rrmc.org/services/ent-audiology.