Stop the Seasons Sneezin

Minimize the misery caused by tiny allergens with these natural non-drug approaches.

| March/April 2006

  • Ragweed pollen, one of the most common allergens, magnified 540 times.
  • Ragweed pollen, one of the most common allergens, magnified 540 times.
  • Ragweed pollen, one of the most common allergens, magnified 540 times.
  • Ragweed pollen, one of the most common allergens, magnified 540 times.
  • The caffeine in coffee is a potent decongestant that can help ease breathing when allergy symptoms flare up.

Although normally considered the body’s best friend, for those suffering from seasonal allergies the immune system can seem more like an enemy — the relentless cause of all those runny noses and watery eyes. Ever know a child who sustained a minor scrape and screamed bloody murder? The immune system overreacts similarly in hay fever-type allergies. When germs invade, the immune system attacks and usually destroys them. But in people with allergies, the immune system mistakes harmless things, such as pollen, for germs, and unleashes an unnecessary but furious attack. Allergy symptoms — congestion, runny nose and watery eyes — are not caused by the allergy trigger (or “allergen”) but rather by the forces of the immune system, notably immunoglobulin E (IgE) and histamine. Common allergens include pollens, molds, dust, animal dander and microscopic bugs called dust mites.

Some 35 million Americans suffer from allergies. While not classically genetic, allergic sensitivities tend to run in families, with some members affected in every generation. Allergies can develop at any age. It all depends on the allergens you’re exposed to. People who never had allergies in one place often develop them when they move. Similarly, moving may eliminate others’ symptoms. The elderly often notice that their symptoms seem less severe as they age, probably because the aging immune system attacks allergens less furiously.

Get Tested, Then Avoid Your Allergens

To what, specifically, are you allergic? You can learn the answer(s) with allergy tests administered by a physician who specializes in allergic conditions, known as an allergist/immunologist. Most common is the skin test, in which the doctor injects a small amount of common allergens under the skin, and your personal allergens cause minor swelling and redness. The doctor also may take some blood for testing.

Once you know what you’re allergic to, avoid your personal allergens like the plagues they are.

Problems with Pollen

For many people, spring is hay fever season. But depending where you live and what you’re allergic to, pollens may trigger allergy symptoms year-round. In the Northeast and Midwest, most trees release pollen from March through June, and grass pollens fill the air from May through July. Weed pollens fly from July to October. Elsewhere, pollen seasons may be different. For pollen seasons in your area, check with your local affiliate of the American Lung Association ( To avoid pollen:

• Schedule outdoor activities for the afternoon or evening. Tree, grass and weed pollen counts are highest from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.; they drop considerably in the afternoon.

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