HomeOpinionChange of season may bring hay fever, other health risks

Change of season may bring hay fever, other health risks

AS WE exit winter and get into the early windy summer days, some people may be faced with health related problems caused by the changing season.

As it becomes warmer, we need to take care, especially those with lighter skins, not to spend too much time soaking up the sun we have all been longing for in order to avoid sunburn or even skin cancer.

However, at the beginning of the summer, when there is often a lot of wind, the major seasonal problem is allergies. An allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to a usually harmless substance known as an allergen.

When a person has an allergy, the body produces antibodies that travel to the cells that release histamine and other chemicals.

This histamine may cause swelling in the nose and eyes in an attempt to stop allergens entering the body. It also causes sneezing to remove allergens from the nose.

The most common allergens are pollens from wind-pollinated plants such as trees, grasses and weeds. The pollens from insect-pollinated plants are too heavy to remain airborne for long so they are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.

Hay fever is the commonest seasonal allergy. The name comes from the hay-cutting season which has for a long time been done in the summer months, around the same time many people experienced symptoms of what became known as hay fever.

Seasonal allergies are less common during the winter but it is possible to experience allergic rhinitis all year round. Different plants emit their respective pollens at different times of the year.

Depending on your allergy triggers and where you live, you may experience hay fever in more than one season. You may also react to indoor allergens, such as mould or pet dander.

Symptoms

Symptoms of seasonal allergies range from mild to severe. The most common include sneezing, having a runny or stuffy nose, watery and itchy eyes, itchy sinuses, throat or ear canals, ear congestion and postnasal drainage, where mucus from your nose drains down into your throat.

Some of the less common symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.

Many people with seasonal allergies also have asthma. People who have both hay fever and asthma usually suffer asthma attacks when seasonal allergens affect them.

Diagnosis

Seasonal allergies are usually easier to diagnose than other allergies. If you have allergic symptoms that only occur at certain times of the year, it is a sign that you have seasonal allergic rhinitis.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor may also check your ears, nose and throat for symptoms.

Allergy testing is usually not necessary.

However, testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid whatever it is that triggers your allergic reaction and identify which treatments are likely to work best for you.

Treatment for allergic rhinitis is likely to be the same, no matter what type of allergen you react to.However, if you know what is triggering your allergy you may be able to try to avoid it.

Treatment

The best medicine for hay fever and year round allergic rhinitis is avoidance of allergens that trigger symptoms for you. Medications are also available to treat symptoms of hay fever. Some people also try alternative home remedies.

Take steps to avoid seasonal allergens. You may, for example, use an air conditioner with a filter to cool your home in summer ratherthan ceiling fans.

At times of the year when your hay fever is active, keep your windows shut and limit your time outdoors.

You may also want to consider wearing a dust mask when you are outside, especially on windy days.

Your Covid-19 mask should also offer you some protection.It is also important to avoid cigarette smoke, which can aggravate hay fever symptoms.

Indoor allergens are often easier to remove from your environment than outdoor pollens. Simple ways to get rid of them include washing your bedding in very hot water at least once a week.

You can also make sure that you cover your bedding and pillows with allergen-proof covers.

Remove carpets and upholstered furniture. Remove stuffed toys from your children’s bedrooms. Fix water leaks and clean up water damage that can help mould and pests flourish.

Clean mouldy surfaces and any place where mould may form, including humidifiers, air conditioners and refrigerators. In addition, you can use a dehumidifier to reduce excess moisture.

Ask someone else to do your lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that can leave you vulnerable to allergens.

Avoid hanging your laundry to dry outside as pollen can stick to sheets and towels.

When you get back into the house, remove the clothes you have been wearing and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.

If you cannot avoid your allergens, treatments are available. These include over-the-counter decongestants and antihistaminesas well as combination medications containing acetaminophen, diphenhydramine and phenylephrine.

Your doctor may suggest prescription medications, such as steroid nasal sprays. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend allergy shots.

These are a type of immunotherapy that can help desensitise your immune system to allergens.

However, you should also know that some allergy medications may have unwanted side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness and confusion.

You can also consider rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution. Nasal irrigation is a quick, inexpensive and effective way to relieve nasal congestion. Rinsing directly flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose.

Look for a squeezable bottle or a small container with a spout designed for nasal rinsing (neti pot) at your pharmacy. Use distilled water that is sterile, previously boiled and cooled or filtered to make up the saline irrigation solution.

Make sure you also rinse the squeeze bottle or neti pot after each use with clean water and leave it open to air-dry.

Conclusion

The symptoms of seasonal allergies can be uncomfortable. If you suspect you have seasonal allergies, talk to your doctor or a professional healthcare service provider. They can help diagnose the cause of your symptoms and prescribe a treatment plan.

Your doctor or professional healthcare service provider will most likely encourage you to take steps to avoid your allergy triggers.

They may also recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications.

  • The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — igo@cimas.co.zw or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.

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