Surviving Allergy Season in North Carolina

As the yearly yellow dusting of long-leaf pine pollen descends upon St. Luke’s Medical, our staff and patrons alike wonder what can be done to minimize the negative effects of allergy season in North Carolina. Our home in the Piedmont, known as “the land of the long-leaf pine,” is particularly susceptible to seasonal allergies resulting from tree pollen from the long-leaf pine. Other trees, grasses, weeds, and molds can cause seasonal allergies in North Carolina as well, with tree pollen peaking in April, grass pollen in May-August, and weed pollen in September. If you would like to learn more about what causes these seasonal allergies and what you can do to survive North Carolina allergy season, this article is for you.

What is Pollen Anyway?
Pollen is a collection of small, powdery granules, typically yellow in color, that is discharged from the male part of a plant’s flower or cone as part of its reproductive process. The pollen generally reaches the female part of the plant either through insects or through the wind. Plants that rely on insects for pollination generally only produce small amounts of pollen, becuase they have a reliable delivery system. Plants that rely on the wind for pollination generally produce large amounts of pollen to ensure that at least some pollen gets to its intended destination dispite the unpredicable nature of the wind. It is generally these wind-borne pollens that people develop allergies to.

How does a Seasonal Allergy Develop?
Incredibly enough, research has yet to yield a final answer. There is certainly a genetic component, as children are more likely to develop allergies if they have a parent with allergies, and the chance increases if both parents suffer. However, children also commonly develop allergies even if neither of their parents have allergies. It is thought in these cases that repeated exposure to the allergen in early childhood, especially if accompanied by immune system triggers such as a viral infections, can lead to the acquisition of an allergy.

Recognizing Seasonal Allergies
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and allergies. The two do share many symptoms, such as sinus congestion. A cold, however, is an infection based on a virus, whereas allergies result from an immune response to a substance such as pollen. It is not surprising, then, that the two are treated very differently. Learning to distinguish seasonal allergies from the common cold will help you choose the treatment that can most effectively alleviate your symptoms.

Seasonal Allergies:

  • Cause clear or watery mucus.
  • Cause itchy or watery eyes.
  • Rarely cause coughing, fever, or achiness, although allergies can cause a cough to develop as the result of post nasal drip.
  • Have consistent symptoms.
  • Can last several weeks or longer.
  • Are more likely to show up in the spring or the fall.

Colds:

  • Cause thick and discolored mucus.
  • Rarely cause itchy or watery eyes.
  • Can include coughing, fevers, or achiness among their symptoms.
  • Have changing symptoms. For example, you might have a sore throat and fever for several days before developing a stuffy nose and sinus pain.
  • Last 7-10 days.Are more likely to show up in late fall and winter.
  • Dealing with Seasonal Allergies
  • Fortunately, over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays, and eye-drops can provide effective relief for seasonal allergies. Prescription allergy medication is also available for more severe or long term relief. Permanent relief can also be found through immunotherapy, where the bodies tolerance for allergens is gradually increased through shots or pills.

In addition to medication, there are also a number of habits you can form to help decrease your exposure to pollen during allergy season.

If possible, try to stay indoors on dry, windy days when pollen counts are high.
Pollen counts also peak in the morning, so try to avoid outdoor activities during the morning hours.
Needless to say, keep the windows and doors of your house and car closed when possible.
Remove shoes and clothes that you have worn outside when you enter your house to avoid tracking pollen inside.
Likewise, be sure to brush or wash pets who have been outside, or just keep them permanently inside or outside.
Be sure to vacuum, sweep, and dust regularly, and check to see if your washer has a hypo-allergenic setting.
During allergy season, ask a family member, neighbor, or friend to mow the lawn for you, or wear a mask when mowing the lawn.
No matter how diligent you are, however, it is near impossible to avoid all seasonal allergens. Do what you can, and if you would like to talk to a physician about whether a prescription allergy medication is right for you, stop by St. Luke’s!

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