When Does Allergy Season End
According to a recent study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), about half of Americans have at least one type of chronic allergic disease — including hay fever and asthma. These diseases affect more than 35 million people and cost more than $18 billion annually.
Chronic allergies can be caused or exacerbated by environmental factors such as dust mites, pet dander, cigarette smoke and air pollution. But many doctors believe that genetic predisposition is also an important factor. In fact, your genes may play a role not only in whether you’ll develop allergies but also how severe they will become. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of all cases of food allergies, for example, are due to genetics. And while researchers continue to investigate the exact causes of allergies, it seems likely that our environment plays a major part in determining who gets them and how severe their symptoms become.
The ACAAI estimates that there are five million children with asthma alone, making this disease the top cause of childhood hospitalization in America. As a result, parents often seek information on treating these conditions. One of the best ways to find out what works for your family is to talk directly to other sufferers who’ve dealt with similar problems. You can do so easily online through Web sites specifically dedicated to answering questions related to allergies, asthma and other chronic illnesses.
You might be surprised to learn, however, that despite the prevalence of allergies in the United States, some experts still claim that the condition is largely psychological in nature. They argue that certain types of mental stress, like worrying too much over work or money issues, could actually contribute to hay fever and other allergies. Other studies suggest that anxiety-related disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and agoraphobia may increase the risk of developing allergies. And yet others say that people prone to allergies should just try harder to control their breathing patterns.
Whether you’re convinced by these arguments or not, we know that allergies can be difficult to manage. For instance, if you suffer from grass pollen allergies, you’ll probably want to avoid walking outside during peak pollen times. If you live near trees, you might want to stay indoors at those same peak times because tree pollen tends to drift farther than grass does. Both approaches can help reduce exposure to allergens. However, there are limits to what you can do — especially when you consider that your body needs to breathe in order to survive.
We’ll look more closely at why allergies happen next.
Allergies: When Your Immune System Goes Crazy
One theory suggests that allergies are simply a response by your immune system to foreign invaders — particularly viruses and bacteria — that get under your skin. According to another popular idea, however, allergies occur when your immune system goes crazy. This view claims that allergies aren’t really a reaction to something “foreign” invading your system; instead, they’re reactions to substances already present within your own body. So where did these ideas come from?
For starters, scientists used to think that allergies were caused by infectious agents called pollens. Then, in 1948, a scientist named Frank Hopkins discovered that mice would react to extracts from plants without ever being exposed to those particular plants themselves. Since then, numerous experiments led to the conclusion that pollens, along with other plant components called allergens, trigger allergic responses in humans. Pollen grains contain proteins called pollens — or pollen antigens — which can trigger allergic reactions.
More recently, research has shown that allergic reactions don’t always occur immediately after contact with an allergen. Instead, your immune system releases chemicals that prepare your body for an attack. Once released, your immune cells release histamine, a chemical compound that helps regulate blood pressure, among other things. Histamines dilate small blood vessels, causing inflammation and swelling. This process leads to sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose and other symptoms associated with allergies.
It’s believed that your immune system releases these histamines when your body detects that it has been invaded by harmful microorganisms such as fungi or viruses. That way, your system can better fight off any infection that threatens your health. Some people, however, seem to be genetically predisposed to releasing higher levels of histamine in response to external triggers. Researchers hypothesize that this tendency results in increased sensitivity to environmental substances like pollen.
Next, let’s take a closer look at three main categories of outdoor allergens.
Grass Pollen Allergy Throughout the Winter and Early Spring (January to Early April)
Tree Pollen Allergies in Late Spring and Early Summer (Late April to July)
Dust Mite Allergies During the Coldest Months (December Through March)
Cat Pelt Dander Allergies Year Round
Outdoor Air Quality Standards
Air quality standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dictate how far pollutants from industrial sources, cars and trucks can travel before breaking down completely. To determine how polluted the air around you is, check local air quality maps available online. Another resource worth considering is the EPA’s AirNow database, which provides data on air contaminants across the country.
Once you’ve determined the level of pollution in your area, you can decide whether you’d prefer to spend time outdoors or inside your home. If you choose to go outside, make sure you bring along your inhaler or other medication necessary to treat your condition. Also, remember that the air outside isn’t necessarily cleaner than the air inside. Consider taking a portable ozone generator with you whenever you venture outside. Ozone generators produce pure oxygen molecules using ultraviolet light energy. Pure oxygen reduces the amount of dangerous airborne particles, such as nitrogen oxides, found in outdoor environments.
Finally, if you suffer from allergies, make sure you wear clothes made of natural fibers rather than synthetic ones. Synthetics tend to hold onto dirt and other irritants more effectively than natural fabrics.
If you have a cat or dog, you should keep their bedding clean and change it frequently. Pet hair can aggravate allergies, as can animal fur shed from blankets and clothing. Wash beds twice weekly with hot water and soap or laundry detergent. Dry everything thoroughly afterward. Don’t allow pets to sleep on pillows or stuffed animals, either, since these items trap moisture and collect allergens.
Dust mites are microscopic arthropods found throughout the world. Most adults are no larger than 1/10th of an inch (.3 cm). While they’re harmless to humans, adult dust mites consume dead skin cells and shed exoskeletons. Because of this, they can multiply rapidly and cause irritation and itching.
To prevent dust mites, wash linens, carpeting and curtains once per week in very hot water. Use a dryer that reaches temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 C) to kill dust mites and eggs. Avoid storing furniture, rugs, carpets and other textiles close together to prevent mold growth. Finally, use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air in rooms where dust mites are known to thrive.
Dust Mite Allergies During the Coldest Months (December Through March)
During cold weather months, dust mites flourish in warm indoor spaces. If you suffer from dust mite allergies, you should take extra precautions to protect yourself. First, open windows for fresh air circulation. Second, wipe down door knobs and frames with a damp cloth to remove dust. Third, vacuum regularly with a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) vacuum cleaner to eliminate dust hiding places.
Keep pets away from featherbeds and soft furnishings, which may encourage dust mite infestation. Clean litter boxes daily with hot water and mild disinfectant. And lastly, invest in a mattress cover, preferably one made of tightly woven polyester mesh fabric, which traps dust mites and keeps them from multiplying.
Cleaning Cat Pelt Dander Allergies Year Round
Although cats don’t technically shed fur year round, they do grow new coats every 3 to 4 weeks. Therefore, if you’re allergic to cat dander, you should keep your cats’ nails trimmed short and brush their coat frequently. A good way to do this is to put a fine metal comb underneath each paw print and gently move it back and forth against the floor surface. Doing so dislodges loose hairs trapped between the claws and comb teeth. Also, never leave your cat alone in a closed room for longer than 15 minutes. Cats naturally urinate and defecate while sleeping, so keeping them cooped up indoors can lead to serious illness.
As mentioned earlier, pet dander is one of the leading causes of houseplants dying. If you love houseplants, buy a special tent that fits over your entire living space. Then fill it with activated charcoal, which absorbs odors and kills bugs and pests. Next, hang a strip of black plastic ribbon from the center of the tent’s roof to block sunlight from reaching the soil. This will discourage insect growth and promote healthy plant life.
No matter what season you’re dealing with allergies, knowing what causes them can help you cope better with the problem. For more information, visit the links and resources listed on the following page.
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