Investigating Ways to Survive and Thrive with Seasonal Allergies
Headaches, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, coughing— these are all symptoms of seasonal, outdoor allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year. And although Florida may not be the worst place for seasonal allergies— Mississippi, New York, and Ohio rate higher— it may have the longest allergy season. Other areas tend to have more defined seasons; the sunshine state is in bloom year-round.
“We have two main allergy seasons, spring and fall, that kind of intermingle,” explains Maria Pochcial, MD. Dr. Pochcial is a practicing physician in allergy and immunology at Gessler Clinic in Winter Haven. Florida has the four main outdoor allergens: trees, grasses, weeds, and mold spores. At the start of the year, tree pollen is the dominant allergen affecting people. While the highest tree pollen count is usually in February, warmer temperatures in December can throw the schedule off. Sometimes trees will start blooming as early as December giving allergy sufferers a one- or two- month head start on their seasonal symptoms.
Grasses usually reach their peak in March but again, as Dr. Pochcial explains, if the weather warms up earlier, they may reach their peak in February. The months of February, March, and April have the highest pollen counts on trees and grasses and thus are considered allergy season. “When you ask allergy sufferers when they have symptoms, they usually say spring or fall, but again this is a wide spectrum.” Dr. Pochcial clarifies, “Spring in Florida can start anytime between December through March and bloom through end of May or June, and grasses can be blooming through August.”
Summer rain and humidity brings on mold spores and weed allergens. Ragweed is the most common, but in Florida weeds such as Yellow Dock or Spiny Pigweed are the big trouble causers that start blooming in end of May or June.
Is It a Cold or Allergies?
Cold or Allergies?With the possibility of contracting symptoms at basically anytime of the year, a sufferer may wonder if they have allergies or a cold. But diagnosis is a pretty simple procedure. “When do people have the symptoms, we ask how they evolved and then [we do] a physical examination,” elaborates Dr. Pochcial. To determine what specific allergens a patient is allergic to takes a bit more in-depth diagnosis with skin testing or blood work. Skin is a more sensitive and precise method, but some people take medications and can not do skin testing, so the doctor will perform blood work to find out the specific immunoglobulin E (IGE)— type of antibody being produced— to determine the allergen.
It’s in the Genes
“It’s always about genetics,” stresses Dr. Pochcial. A child, who has one parent with allergies, has a 50 percent chance of also having an allergy. If both parents have allergies, a child’s risk goes up to 70 percent. But children don’t inherit the same allergies as their parents. The individual allergy develops later depending on what a child is exposed to. For example, if a child is very sick and has extreme exposure to mold, that mold will start to aggravate the child’s immune system and the immune system will act abnormally.
Most allergy sufferers can treat their symptoms with over the counter medications depending on the specific symptoms they are experiencing. Itchy eyes can be treated with an anti-inflammatory or anti-histamine. Congestion can be alleviated by a decongestant or leukotriene inhibitor, which stops nasal passages from swelling and making mucus. Sufferers have a variety of medications at their disposal. But when over the counter medication or home remedies don’t work, more powerful treatments can be utilized such as immunotherapy or allergy shots. If possible, Dr. Pochcial says the best way to reduce symptoms is to minimize one’s exposure to allergens.
10 tips for Minimizing Your Exposure to Triggers of Seasonal / Outdoor Allergies
- Minimize your outdoor activities
- Keep Windows closed at home and in the car
- Keep air conditioner and air filters clean
- Use an air purifier
- Eliminate weeds from your yard and plant allergy-friendly greenery such as azaleas, begonias, palms and yucca shrubs
- Shower and shampoo nightly to rinse pollens from skin and hair.
- Change clothes before entering your bedrooms to keep pollens out.
- Keep surfaces dusted to prevent pollen from collecting.
- Nothing to Sneeze At
- Wear oversized sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat to block airborne pollens and molds
- Take medication before symptoms appear
story by BONNY JOHNSON
portrait by LUIS BETANCOURT