By Josh Baguley
As allergic rhinitis (or Hay Fever) affects about 7.8% of the adult US population, pollen is no joke. With symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes and skin, sneezing, congestion, and fatigue, Hay Fever can be a major nuisance or, in extreme cases, downright debilitating. As we approach spring and pollen is in the air, I feel that it is a good time to learn about the preventions and possible treatments of pollen allergies so that you can better prepare for the misery.
Cedar Pollen Explosion. Source: http://www.kut.org/post/after-perfect-storm-cedar-pollen-may-level-out
Allergens are the result of your immune system overreacting to an otherwise harmless substance. Mast cells are a type of white blood cell and are the main culprits in the allergic response. These mast cells have antibodies (IgE) on their surface that will bind to foreign substances. Once the substance binds to the antibodies, the mast cells will treat it as a foreign invader and release several chemicals including Histamine. Histamine causes inflammation and leads to the unpleasant manifestations of allergies.
So, what are the ways to prevent or treat allergies? Below I have compiled a list of the most common options, along with their pros and cons.
Limit Exposure – This may seem like a simple one, but it is effective if possible. If you know what triggers your allergies, avoid places that will put you at risk or wear gear that can help protect you (such as dust masks and goggles).
- No need for medication
- Not always possible
- Dust masks and goggles may cramp your style
Over-the-counter Medication – There are several medications that act to reduce the effects of Histamine released by the mast cells such as Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra (note, this blog is not sponsored by these brands, but if they are interested in a deal, I’m listening. These antihistamines can reduce swelling, itching, and several other symptoms
- Several forms
- Easy to get ahold of
- May cause drowsiness
- Can be expensive
- Must take repeatedly
- Can be allergic to allergy medicine (irony)
Allergen Immunotherapy (i.e. Allergy Shots) – These work by desensitizing your immune system to the allergens that would cause you to have an allergic response. For example, if you were allergic to cedar pollen the shots would contain small amounts of cedar pollen. The amount of pollen is large enough to be noticed by the immune system, but small enough to not cause your mast cells to have a reaction. Gradually, the amount of pollen in the shots is increased and your immune system builds a tolerance to the pollen, thus reducing the likelihood and scale of future allergic reactions.
- Reduce the amount of medication you will need long term
- Works well for those allergic to insect stings
- Less cumbersome when treatment is complete
- Whole process is lengthy (takes several years)
- If administered improperly, can cause severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
- Shots can be intimidating
Epinephrine shot –This isn’t so much a treatment as it is a last resort way to save your life from anaphylactic shock. They are used to rapidly reduce swelling and ensure that you can breathe in the case of a severe allergic reaction.
- They will save your life in an emergency
- Expensive, ranging from ~$60 for the generic version to ~$300 for the name brand (EpiPen)
- Again, shots are scary
- Single use only in emergencies
- Will not prevent allergies
There are several options that are available to you these days so allergies will no longer ruin Spring for you every year. Review your choices, talk them over with your doctor, and enjoy a life free from the oppression of allergies!
About the author -- Joshua Baguley is a recent graduate of the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University College of Biomedical Sciences. Josh is also a Research Assistant - Intern in the RIPL_Effect Research Team under the mentorship of principal investigator, Dr. Félix E. Rivera-Mariani. He was recently hired as a Research Assistant in the Department of Genetic Medicine at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Also, Josh recently published as first and co-author in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in the following publications listed:
- As first author:
- as co-author:
- Evaluating differences in prevalence of food allergies between two geographic regions: Australia and US.
- Relationship of serological reactivity to cytoplasmic extracts from spores of Ganoderma applanatum and commercial extracts of indoor, mitosporic fungi, and farm animal allergens among Puerto Rican subjects.
- Comparison between PM2.5 levels on east coast and state of California in relationship to asthma.
- Comparing the magnitude of meteorological variables and air pollutants as contributing factors atopic dermatitis symptoms.