Blooming spring flowers signal the beginning of spring, but for millions of people, they also signal the onset of the misery – allergy and asthma season. Itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, cough and wheezing are triggered by an overreaction of the body to pollen.
Every spring, trees and grasses release billions of buoyant pollen granules into the air, using the wind to disperse them in an effort to reproduce. It’s all about survival, plants that release more pollen have the survival advantage.
If you suffer through the season, know that you are not alone. Throughout history, pollen has taken the fun out of spring for many. In modern times, however, medical science has identified practices and treatments that help. Fossilised specimens of pollen granules have been found predating dinosaurs and alongside Neanderthals.
And, sinus and asthma symptoms and treatments are documented throughout history and across the globe. People just didn’t know exactly how to treat the symptoms, or exactly what was causing them.
As scientific advancement was stifled during the Middle Ages, in large part due to the plague, it wasn’t until 900 years later, in 1819, that Dr John Bostock published a description of his own seasonal allergies. But he didn’t know what was causing them. Antihistamines first became available in the 1940s, but they caused significant sedation. The formulations with fewer side effects that are used today have only been available since the 1980s.
Though recognised by ancient civilizations, seasonal allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma have only increased in prevalence in recent history and are on the rise, now affecting 10 to 30 per cent of the world’s population. Fuelled by warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels, pollen seasons are longer and pollen counts are higher. Many experts believe this will worsen in the coming years due in large part to climate change.
What can you do? Often, those who are allergic need a multifaceted approach. Here are a few steps you can take in order to keep your allergy in check:
- Find out what allergens are causing your symptoms. Take note of when your symptoms start by making a note in a calendar or planner.
- Minimise exposure to allergens. Track pollen counts. When pollen counts are high, keep the windows closed at home and in the car. After spending time outdoors, shower and change clothing to prevent ongoing exposure to pollen.
- Take a pro-active approach to treating symptoms. Starting medications before symptoms develop can prevent symptoms from getting out of control. This can also decrease the amount of medication needed overall. Long acting non-sedating antihistamines are helpful for itching and sneezing. Nasal corticosteroid sprays are more helpful for stuffy noses.
- Consider a visit to see a board certified allergist/immunologist. She or he can help you determine which particular pollens maybe the source of your symptoms.
- Explore the role of immunotherapy with your doctor. Immunotherapy changes the immune response through administration of small regimented doses of allergens over time. This induces a state of tolerance, eventually helping people become less allergic over time.
*The article was originally published by The Conversation Global Perspectives.