Understanding the impact of spring allergies on different body systems

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If you suffer from spring allergies, you already know you tend to feel miserable once pollen season descends. But did you know that allergies can affect many different systems within your body – and that they're all interconnected?

Spring allergens such as pollen, mold spores and other airborne particles not only trigger nasal allergies, but also can have a profound effect on a variety of allergic conditions including asthma and eczema. Understanding how all the allergic responses are interconnected is crucial for effectively managing and improving the overall quality of life for people who are affected."

Gailen Marshall, MD, PhD, allergist, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI)

How will you feel the effects?

Nasal allergies: The image that pops to mind when you hear "spring allergies" is someone sneezing and blowing their nose. Inhaled pollen can trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible people, leading to symptoms like sneezing, itching and nasal congestion. Nasal allergies are commonly referred to as "hay fever" although there is no connection to either hay or fever. The impact of these allergies isn't limited to the respiratory tract.

Asthma flares: For people with asthma, exposure to spring allergens can make their symptoms much worse. Pollen and other airborne allergens can irritate the airways, leading to a rapid tightening of the airways and increased inflammation over time. This aggravation can result in wheezing, coughing, and/or difficulty breathing. The link between nasal allergies and asthma, sometimes known as the "allergic march," shows the progression in some individuals.

Eczema: Beyond the respiratory system, spring allergens and warmer temperatures can also impact the skin. Eczema, a chronic inflammatory skin condition, may worsen during the spring months. Pollen and other environmental allergens can trigger flare-ups in individuals with sensitive skin. The connection between environmental allergies and skin conditions emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach to managing allergic diseases.

Eye allergies: Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is by far the most common type of eye allergy. Patients can experience symptoms in spring, summer and/or fall, depending on the type of plant pollens in the air. Typical symptoms include itching, redness, burning and clear, watery discharge. People with SAC may have chronic dark circles (known as allergic shiners) under their eyes. The eyelids may be puffy, and bright lights may be bothersome. SAC symptoms often accompany the runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion associated with hay fever and other seasonal allergies.

What's an allergic person to do?

Get the right medications: Although people react differently to different allergens, often the symptoms look very similar. If you find yourself reacting in the same way at the same time every year, you might have allergies and the right medication can help. Medications such as antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, and bronchodilators play a crucial role in alleviating symptoms associated with spring allergies. These therapies can help manage both respiratory and skin flares, along with stuffiness, sneezing and itchy eyes.

Avoid your allergens: Once you know what you have an allergic reaction to, you can work to avoid that substance. Measures such as keeping windows shut to keep out pollen, taking a shower at night, and washing your clothes after being outside around pollen, can all help ease symptoms. If you have eczema, moisturizing often is key to reducing itching, and avoid fabrics that irritate your skin. For eye allergies, artificial tears can temporarily wash allergens from the eyes and moisten them.

See an allergist: A board-certified allergist can work with you to identify your personal allergen sensitivity profile and get your symptoms under control. Allergists can do testing to determine what is causing your symptoms, and develop a plan tailored to your needs. Your allergist may suggest allergen immunotherapy, either in shot or tablet form. Immunotherapy can be a long-term solution that can modify your immune system's response to specific allergens.

Although symptoms may not always be severe, allergies and asthma are diseases and should be treated that way. Many people with allergies, asthma or eczema simply don't realize how much better they can feel. To locate an allergist in your area, visit AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.

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