It may not feel like it here in the Northeast, but spring has officially sprung. If you suffer from allergies, you are probably less than thrilled by Mother Nature’s annual rebirth. As the flowers rear their ugly heads and the trees thrust their fresh green leaves at you, you are picturing itchy eyes, a runny nose and incessant sneezing. Just when it seems safe to open all the windows, slip on your flip-flops and enjoy the great outdoors, allergy symptoms may have you running for the pharmacy. For those with seasonal allergies, the next couple of months may be spent with a fistful of tissues, a pocketful of Claritin and a phrase at the ready, “I’m not contagious. It’s only allergies.” Only allergies can be quite debilitating. What are they?
1. An allergy is a reaction to a harmless substance that your body views as foreign. Our immune system exists to fight off things that don’t belong. It is on the constant lookout for anything that needs to be disposed of — like a neat freak. In some people, the immune system overreacts to substances that are not a threat. This fires up an immune mediator called IgE that releases histamine. The histamine is responsible for all of the annoying symptoms.
2. Histamine causes:
– itchy, red, watery eyes
– post-nasal drip
– runny nose
– itchy nose and throat
– coughing and sneezing
– shortness of breath and wheezing especially in those with asthma
3. The result of all this unnecessary drama and attention-seeking by your immune system is allergic rhinitis or hay fever. In the spring, hay fever is generally caused by tree pollen. In the summer, it is caused by grass and weed pollen.
4. How do you know it isn’t a cold? Colds should resolve in 1-2 weeks, seasonal allergies can last for, well, a season. Colds and allergies have similar symptoms but while you get aches and low-grade fevers with colds, you get itchy, watery eyes with allergies.
5. Allergies can come on suddenly and severely, or they can present in a more mild, chronic fashion. Either way, they are a nuisance — and, they do nothing for your appearance. Even the cutest spring dress can’t mask swollen eyes and a red nose. If you are not sure if you have allergies or, if you know you have them but are not sure what your triggers are, see your doctor. There are some very cool tests that can be done to help you sort it all out.
Tomorrow, who gets allergies and Wednesday, how to treat allergy symptoms. I am trying to think of something clever to add but, uncharacteristically, I am speechless. I have, what has been aptly described to me as NSU – non-specific unease. I can’t quite put my finger on the problem but after a silly, immature weekend, I am left wondering when I am going to grow-up, get my act together and figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I actually had a dream last night that I went back to do a residency in General Surgery and on day one, couldn’t remember how to chart a patient’s vital signs. You know you have a problem when even your subconscious is ashamed of your behavior! The good news is that this condition is temporary and 99% of the time resolves within 24 hours. I’ll be back to my happy, irresponsible self tomorrow.