Springtime is here, and along with all the joyful things such as sunshine, warmer temperatures, birds singing, and life in bloom, some of us get to experience seasonal allergies. I’ve often heard the phrase that if you live in New England, you’ve either had, do have, or will have allergies at some point in your life. I’ve mentioned them before, but I’d like to go a bit more in-depth.
Unfortunately, that idea only refers to seasonal allergies, and New England doesn’t corner the market with allergy potential. There are many causes (and terms) for allergies, and I’d like to talk about them, because people with Cystic Fibrosis tend to have a lot of allergies in addition to chronic respiratory infections and asthmatic symptoms.
Allergic reactions due to airborne elements (we are not talking about food or insect bite allergies) often cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Increase of mucus in your sinuses
- Runny nose and Sneezing
- Post-nasal drip (secretions running down the back of the throat)
- Sore throat
- Teary eyes
- Itching deep in the ear canal
- Facial pain (often around the eyes)
- Wheezing/Asthma symptoms
- Itching, hives and other skin breakouts
- In rare cases, Anaphylactic shock
Allergies come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and causes.
1. Indoor Allergens and Triggers:
- Pet dander – yes, your precious furbabies who make you feel better when you’re not feeling well can actually make you feel worse. Contrary to popular belief, s not cat/dog fur that causes allergies, but the dander – a buildup of skin cells brought to the surface while grooming.
- Dust – it’s everywhere. You can’t stop it, but you can slow it down from accumulating.
- Air quality extremes – too dry, too damp. Humidity levels too high or too low can cause a lot of inflammation in your sinuses and even lungs.
- Mold – check on the inside of shower curtains/stalls, toilet tanks, under pet water bowls, and anywhere that there is chance for moisture to accumulate, and take cautions around building construction or building renovations. Mold is difficult enough to deal with if it’s growing in general, but it can get really nasty if you get a particular fungus – Aspergillus– into your respiratory system, where it can colonize and cause allergy symptoms within the lungs.
- Insects/Bugs – it sends shivers down my back to even think of it, but bugs can make you miserable by more than just existing. Dust mites live in bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets can cause allergy symptoms. The most disgusting bug in the world, which is so disgusting I cannot even say its name without cringing (hint – they are often found in kitchens) can also cause allergies.
- Plants – As much joy and Oxygen that plants provide, they, too, can cause allergies. In addition, people with Cystic Fibrosis can encounter the bacteria Pseudomonas Aeriginosa from soil. On the other hand, I tend to kill nearly everything green brought into this house, and what I don’t kill, the cats like to attack!
- Indoor pollution – cleaning products, smoke or fumes coming from overheating food or non-stick cookware, fragrances in cleaning products, personal care items (shampoo, lotion) and candles can all cause allergic symptoms. A good way to find out if you’re allergic to these sort of items is to walk down the clearing supply aisle at a grocery or big box store. If your eyes start to tear and you start sneezing or coughing, you’ve identified a trigger.
2. Outdoor Allergens and Triggers
- Humidity extremes – if your outdoor air is too damp, too dry or too humid, try to schedule your activities around times of day when the humidity is more comfortable.
- Pollen – Tree, Grass, Weeds – everything that grows produces pollen. Once you spy a bee in the early spring, you can expect the pollen levels to start to skyrocket. That’s their job – they transmit pollen. (Well, other than harassing me and causing me nightmares!)
- Pollution – particles released into the environment by factories, car exhaust, various chemicals, the burning of some fuel sources (ie. coal and wood) causes all sorts of symptoms in the sinuses and lungs.
- Ozone – produce by a reaction between the Sun and Car emissions, higher levels of ground-level ozone can cause a lot of agony to people with sensitive respiratory systems. Ozone tends to increase during lightning storms as well, evidenced by an increase of asthma patients to Emergency Rooms during severe storms (it’s a chemical reaction thing).
Prevention and Treatment
Once identifying possible sources, we can focus on not only obtaining relief but preventing allergy symptoms before they start.
- Get rid of built-up house dust, and use something that doesn’t just displace the dust, but captures it. There are special dust-removing and dust-preventing products out there. Experiment with them to find what suits you best. Dust happens everywhere, so make sure that you clean all surfaces that you might not think about, such as floor boards, light fixtures, the tops of doors or even the bowl of fruit in your kitchen. If it sits out, it can attract dust.
- Sweep and wash hard floors.
- If you don’t already do so, switch to using cleaning products that are natural, fragrance-free, and chemical-free.
- Vacuum all rugs often. Carpets are known for harboring all sorts of icky things!
- If you have a cat, use cat litter with no chemicals. We use a Corn-based litter that the cats prefer, and that won’t make them sick if they inject it while grooming.
- Groom pets regularly to help decrease the amount of dander.
- Keep pets off the bed. Okay, I admit I make this mistake all the time. I cannot help myself!!
- Use bedbug and dust-mite-resistant mattress covers.
- Wash your linens regularly, in hot water.
- Wash bedding regularly in hot water
- Identify sources of mold – on an internal shower curtain, areas of dead leaves piling up near open windows
- Change filters in heat and air conditioning units – including all forced air vents and air return vents, depending on the type of home heating fuel and equipment you use – regularly.
- Keep other air-related products like ceiling fans, regular fans, the back of your hair dryer, and behind all electrical equipment free of dust buildup.
- Clean out vents – on your clothes dryer, the clothes dryer tubing, exterior vents from fireplaces and home heating fuel.
- Close windows – house and car – when the pollen levels are high.
- Use a humidifier/dehumidifier to achieve optimal indoor humidity levels.
- Talk to your doctor about possible medical intervention – including allergy testing and appropriate medications for your particular case:
- Use gentle Saline sinus rinses to keep your sinuses clear of allergen particles.
- Preventive allergy medications are usually taken every day, before the allergy season begins. Some meds need to build up in the system for a while before reaching maximum effectiveness. Some people find relief in pill form, others via steroid nasal sprays.
- Medications offering quick relief come in several forms, from daily long-acting (all day) to “emergency” quick-relief treatments like Benadryl.
- If your allergies are very severe, you may need allergy shots.
No matter where you live, there’s a chance you may have or develop allergies. Remember, though, that there is an entire arsenal of practices and products you can use to prevent or treat allergy symptoms, so you no longer need to dread the changing seasons. Enjoy all of the splendor and wonder of nature’s gifts!