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'Tis Maybe the Season for Allergies

By: Gwen Y. Reyes-Amurao, M.D.'Tis Maybe the Season for Allergies

Christmas is definitely in the air and with the season comes a lot of joy and merriment – and a little bit of allergies too! Here are some important things to consider to prevent those allergies from dampening your Christmas cheer.

The Burden of Allergies

In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspective, seasonal allergies and asthma impose significant health burdens – approximately 30% of the global population is afflicted by allergic rhinitis or hay fever while 300 million people worldwide are affected by asthma. In a more specific study published in The Lancet, it was noted that early exposure to environmental allergens (before 3 years of age) increased the risk of developing allergic rhinitis and even asthma later on in life.

Allergy defined

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, an allergy is a chronic condition involving an abnormal reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen. Common allergens include dust mite, mold, tree weed, and grass pollen, as well as food allergens such as milk, egg, fish, and the like. Once an allergic reaction occurs, the immune system triggers a cascade of reactions that ultimately produce Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, which are responsible for producing symptoms associated with allergies.

A very common type of allergy, known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, is experienced by approximately 40 to 60 million people worldwide. Although sometimes interchangeably used with the term seasonal allergies, allergic rhinitis can actually exist in two different forms, namely seasonal and perennial. As the name implies, seasonal allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies emerge during certain times of the year and is associated with changes in the season, which greatly affects the presence of allergens during a specific time of year. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology (ACAAI), certain weather or climate conditions (no matter what region of the world) can lead to early grass pollination, one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies. Rainy damp weather meanwhile helps promote rapid plant growth, also leading to increased pollination and an increase in mold production which causes allergic symptoms. In a tropical country such as ours, grass pollination occurs throughout a good portion of the year with greater activity during the cold a nd windy holiday season, which often starts in October and lasts until late January or early February.

Individuals with perennial allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, experience symptoms all year round and often react to dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, and mold. Occasionally, food allergies can also lead to perennial nasal symptoms. Some people though may have both forms of allergic rhinitis, with symptoms being more severe than the daily allergic manifestations during pollination season.

Allergy manifestations

Allergic rhinitis or hay fever is characterized by symptoms such as:

  • Runny nose;
  • Itchy eyes, mouth or skin;
  • Sneezing;
  • Nasal congestion;
  • Watery eyes;
  • Dark circles under the eyes (usually for those with severe or chronic allergies); and
  • Itchiness in the nose, the roof of the mouth, back of the throat, eyes, and inner ear.

Itching is often the first symptom experienced, which is followed by a runny nose that later on develops into nasal congestion. In severe cases of congestion, ear infections and headaches can be experienced. Eye symptoms often include itchiness, redness, and tearing. Coughing and wheezing can also be experienced by some, all of which vary depending on the severity of allergen exposure usually determined by the season.

Managing allergic symptoms

There are different treatment options for managing allergic symptoms effectively. Oral antihistamines such as loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine all help relieve sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and a runny nose. For nasal congestion, oral decongestants can provide temporary relief, especially with the help of nasal sprays. Currently, combination drugs containing an antihistamine and a decongestant are now available worldwide. However, before using or taking any of the medication mentioned, it is best to consult with a specialist to know the proper dosage and possible side effects of each drug.

Nasal irrigation or rinsing of the nasal passages with saline solution is now a common practice by people with allergic rhinitis all over the world. This method helps flush out mucus and allergens from the nasal passages without the unwanted side effects of taking oral medications.

Bathing one’s eyes with eyewashes can help reduce eye redness and irritation brought about by allergies. In severe allergic eye reactions, drops containing antihistamines and/or steroids can prove to be effective in providing instant relief. If symptoms persist despite these types of management, it is best to seek consultation with an ophthalmologist.

Preventing allergies

The Mayo Clinic recommends the following techniques in order to avoid or at least relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies especially during the holidays:

  • Know your allergy triggers. Through the tests mentioned, determining the allergens and preventing exposure to them can help prevent further allergic episodes.
  • Reduce exposure to allergens and irritants that can trigger allergic reactions.
  • Stay indoors especially on dry and windy days since wind is a good carrier of pollen and other allergens.
  • Because pollen level is noted to be higher in the morning, it is best to schedule morning get-togethers indoors where there is air conditioning and exposure to pollen is minimal.
  • Keep indoor air clean by using air filters and regularly cleaning air conditioning units.
  • When visiting other houses with possible allergens, bring along anti-allergy medicines or better yet, take them prior to your arrival in the house.
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