Breaking Down Seasonal Allergies
“It’s that time of year,” says your doctor with a wry smile, as he hands you a prescription for tablets, inhalers or nasal sprays for seasonal allergies, the most common reason for your annual sneezes and wheezes.
What Is an Allergy?
An allergy is an overzealous response of the immune system in reaction to contact with an antigen, which might be a bacterium, virus or small molecule in the environment. A certain type of white blood cell, the mast cell, secretes a substance called histamine. Histamine is responsible for the symptoms of allergy, sneezing, itching, watery eyes and a runny nose.
Do you or one of your children come down with a cold during the same month, year after year? Maybe it arrives just in time to ruin the family camping holiday. Is your hay fever or asthma worse at some times of the year rather than others? If so, you may have a seasonal allergy, rather than a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.
The main culprits in seasonal allergies are pollens from trees, grasses and herbaceous plants. In some circumstances, it may be worth the effort to have tests to determine which plants cause you the most troublesome symptoms. If you discover, for instance that you are allergic to pollen from red fir trees, you might want to avoid certain parts of Yosemite during the active season. The middle of the wilderness at several thousand feet elevation is not the best place experience status asthmaticus, an uninterrupted series of severe asthma attacks that may require you to be air-lifted for medical assistance.
Common Seasonal Allergens
Cypress trees, from the genus, Cypressus, are particularly potent examples of allergenic pollen. These are common in the American southwest, from Oregon to Texas and including California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Pollination occurs in January and February and in the spring time, although the season varies with latitude and elevation. Be particularly on the lookout for C. arizonica, C. macrocarpa and C. sempervirens species.
If you suffer from asthma or hay fever, other spring plants to avoid in March, April and May include Birch, Ash, Elm, Sycamore, Oak, Poplar and others.
Grass pollens are on the increase at this time of year. Molds peak in March but continue to appear at lower levels in April.
Pollinating trees settle down in June, although Olive and Privet may continue through the month of July. Apart from Cedar and Pine, there won’t be much to trouble you until September, with the arrival of Chinese Elm. Grasses and weeds are a particular problem in the summer months, particularly in agricultural areas. Mold continues to be a menace.
September is generally a quiet month, although there may be a brief second season of grass and weed pollens. Molds peak during the harvest season in September and October.
Pollen levels are minimal. Molds can generally be avoided at higher elevations, where it is freezing cold, but you have to get past the lower elevations first. If this is a problem for you, wear a mask or consider arriving by chopper.
Managing Seasonal Allergy
Prevention and avoidance, if possible, are superior to treating symptoms if this can be arranged. Watch out for pollen alerts on local news channels and websites. If high levels are forecast, start using your preventative medicine. Try to avoid going outdoors in the morning, when pollen levels are highest.
When preventive measures fail, or if your work takes you into harm’s way, there are several avenues of symptom relief. Over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and combination medications are all readily available. Another neat trick, albeit a little weird, is to periodically rinse out your nasal passages with a sterile saline solution. You can get suitable spray bottles and advice from your local pharmacist.