Did you know? Boston is ranked number 77 on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's "most challenging places to live with spring allergies" list. Springfield is ranked at number 20 and Worcester is ranked at number 63. After an unseasonably warm winter, spring allergies have arrived a bit early, along with asthma symptoms for those who suffer from the condition. And this month, we're sharing information, tips, and tricks to help you to survive asthma and allergy season.
It's springtime. Young children marvel at new blossoms. Budding leaves bring color to their world.
But for kids with allergies or asthma, the season can also bring stuffy noses, breathing difficulties, and a frustrating loss of energy.
"Children are more likely to manifest allergy and allergic asthma symptoms than adults because of their robust immune systems and smaller developing airways," says David Hill, MD, chair-elect of the board of directors of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.
"Parents can monitor pollen and other allergen counts through smart phone apps and keep their children indoors when counts are high," says Hill.
You can find local pollen counts on the web at Weather.com.
What can you do to make your child's seasonal experiences as healthy as possible?
- Don't let them play outdoors from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., which are peak pollen hours.
- Keep them indoors during dry and windy conditions.
- The best time to go out is right after a rain, when the air is cleaner.
- Have them shower before going to bed.
- Use a clothes dryer to dry laundry. Pollen sticks to damp fabric hung on an outdoor clothes line.
It's okay to let them participate in school activities like physical education. Just make sure they follow the doctor's advice, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
"Now is a great time to make sure that you have all of their asthma medication and are using them as prescribed", says Sarah Denny, MD, attending physician in the Section of Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Kids can teach themselves about allergies and asthma by playing age-appropriate puzzles and video games on the Academy's Mr.Nose-It-All Page.
Bad news, seasonal snifflers: according to environmental and allergy experts, rising temperatures are poised to bring about elevated allergen levels—as well as the itchy, stuffed-up allergy seasons they inspire—like we've never seen before.
Science writer Charles W. Schmidt explains in the latest issue of Environmental Health Perspectives that as a region's warm seasons get ever longer and hotter, local vegetation responds to this fair weather with some serious and unprecedented extra growing that puts allergen levels on the rise.In order words, Schmidt says, hospitably warm temperatures and higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere—the substance that leafy plants gobble up in the process of photosynthesizing nourishment—have been causing plants to "grow more vigorously and produce more pollen than they otherwise would."
For those of us that are old hands at dealing with seasonal allergies, this means that extant allergies could become even worse in the coming months and years, according to Rutgers professor and allergy specialist Leonard Bielory. He explained to National Geographic that pollen causes allergy symptoms because our immune systems pick up on a protein sequence in pollen which resembles that of a parasite, and so respond defensively with runny noses and eyes (and plenty of sneezing) in an attempt to dispel these seeming invaders from the body. And while prolonged exposure to certain substances can let people build up tolerances to them, this is very unfortunately not the case with allergens like pollen, Bielory says. "In general, the longer you're exposed to an allergen, the more likely you are going to be sensitized to that allergen," he told the site—i.e. the more allergens are around, the more vigorously our immune systems will try to fight them off with unpleasant symptoms.
People without histories of spring and summer allergies aren't in the clear, either. After several years of warmer growing seasons, new cases of hay fever having been springing up around the world, Schmidt notes, and persons whose immune systems weren't previously irked by the protein sequence in pollen, a.k.a. the male reproductive material of many plants, may soon start feeling the burn, too.
Sadly, we won't be out of the woods anytime soon, either: some researchers expect pollen levels to double by 2040, meaning there may be twice as much material in the air threatening to send your immune system into red alert in the coming decades. If Bielory is correct in theorizing that our changing diets, strengthening hygiene habits, and tendency to avoid allergens from an early age are contributing to greater prevalence of asthma and allergies, then perhaps a widespread spring cleaning with regard to how we view allergens is in order.
Meanwhile, a trip to the beach for a nice dip in sinus-clearing salt water is seldom a bad idea.
As flu season rounds the corner into allergy season every year, it's common enough to find yourself stuffed up and sniffly just as temperatures outside are getting really pleasant. In order to choose the best treatment regimen to get you back on your feet and out in the sun, however, it's important to know the answer to an age-old question: is it allergies or a cold?
Dr. James M. Steckelberg, consultant to the Mayo Clinic's Division of Infectious Diseases, explains that while seasonal allergies and colds have some overlapping symptoms, they're "very different diseases, [as] colds are caused by viruses, while seasonal allergies are immune system responses triggered by exposure to allergens." What's more, he says, the cold symptoms you may seem to get each year like clockwork could actually be signs of seasonal allergies—a condition that won't likely be soothed by cold remedies, and which has been on the rise alongside seasonal temperatures, even among those lucky persons who have been allergy free to date.
Luckily, it's a conundrum that snifflers can often sort out by learning a few key differences between the two illnesses, Dr. Dave Hnida tells CBSNews. For example, a cold virus can leave you with fever, chills, and a painful throat—none of which are symptomatic of seasonal allergies, Dr. Hnida says. Allergies can lead to a scratchy throat, of course, but generally not a painful one, he explains, while coughing caused by a cold—often an attempt to clear phlegm from your throat or chest—tends to be much deeper than the shallow, itch-scratching cough that usually comes with allergies.
Sneezing fits and itchy eyes, on the other hand, are much more common with allergies than colds, Dr. Hnida notes. When it comes to runny noses, i.e. the usual centerpiece of suffering with colds and allergies alike, you've likely come down with a cold if you find yourself stuffed up and smarting from sinus pressure; with allergies, he says, "your nose tends to run like it's in a long-distance race" instead. And while more stubborn colds can last beyond the usual three-to-ten-day span and even up to two weeks, if your itching and sneezing is still hanging around in several weeks, you're likely stuck with seasonal allergies.
Once you know what's ailing you, you can make informed decisions about how to treat it, at least (even if that's little comfort when you can't smell or taste your food). According to Dr. Steckelberg, tried-and-true treatments for the common cold include over-the-counter pain relievers and cold remedies, like decongestants, and plenty of rest. For treating seasonal allergy symptoms, he says, over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid sprays can offer a lot of relief.
Dr. Hnida points out, too, that persons with seasonal allergies can limit their suffering by cutting down on their exposure to allergens with certain behavioral and hygiene habits. For example, avoiding outdoor activities in the early morning "when pollen counts tend to be highest," he says, can lessen the symptoms they cause, while changing clothes and taking a shower after being outdoors can help keep allergens safely out of your home.
In any case, Dr. Hnida says, now is a good time to start keeping track of how your nose is faring, and possibly to stock up on some anti-allergy supplies, too. He explains, "All of the moisture and temperature swings we've had means a leap in pollen counts as the temps warm—and right now it's those trees which are spewing out those microscopic particles of misery, with the grasses soon to follow."