All about Seasonal allergiesWith the change in the season, some individuals who are sensitive to this can develop a variety of different allergic symptoms and signs. This is known as seasonal allergy and can be quite a troublesome and distressing condition to many patients. In this article, we shall briefly review seasonal allergies and talk about how they can be managed and prevented.
What are seasonal allergies?Seasonal allergies are allergic conditions that occur with changes in the weather and exposure to certain agents. For example, once spring sets in, some patients may develop an allergic sneeze or itching that requires treatment. Some patients may notice this when the monsoon season begins. They usually are triggered by exposure of the individual to pollen or to dust.
It must be remembered that having a seasonal allergy does not mean that an individual has a cold. The two conditions are completely different and this has been reviewed briefly below.
What causes seasonal allergies?Seasonal allergies usually occur due to changes in the surrounding environment. The change in weather can be accompanied by an increase in the release of spores and pollen into the air. Patients who are prone to developing seasonal allergies are quite responsive to this pollen and can start experiencing clinical symptoms almost straight away.
What are the symptoms of seasonal allergies?The most common symptom associated with seasonal allergy is sneezing and a runny nose. Patients may occasionally develop a cough but rarely have a fever. Another common symptom that is associated with seasonal allergy is redness and itching of the eyes.
Typically, seasonal allergies start with a change in the season and once treatment has been administered, the symptoms resolved fairly quickly. However, symptoms may recur every year with a change in the weather and the season. There is no definitive cure for this condition and many a times patients require multiple courses of treatment to help control the symptoms.
Is seasonal allergy a cold?The answer to this question is no. In patients who suffer from the common cold, cough is a common symptom along with generalised body ache, sore throat and a runny nose. In patients with seasonal allergies, cough is rarely present and the primary symptoms include itching of the eyes and sneezing. Patients with the common cold can sometimes have a fever but those with a seasonal allergy never have a fever.
However, it is easy to confuse the two conditions as a layman as some of the symptoms such as a runny nose and a stuffy nose are common to both.
Diagnosis of seasonal allergiesThe diagnosis of seasonal allergies is made mostly through clinical history and examination of the patient. Patients are very well aware that the change in weather has resulted in their clinical condition. Many a times, when patients present to the doctor for the first time, they would have experienced similar symptoms at similar times of the year in the past as well. It is therefore easy not only for the doctor but also the patient to make a diagnosis.
Some patients who suffer from seasonal allergies require additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine what the triggers are that lead to the clinical condition. One test that is performed is an allergy skin test which involves ‘pricking’ the patient with a compound that contains the allergen (substance that causes the allergy). The skin reaction is then noted and it is easy to determine whether the patient is allergic to that particular substance.
In addition to allergy testing, patients may also undergo certain blood test that look for the presence of certain proteins called immunoglobulins in the blood. A specific type of immunoglobulins known as immunoglobulins E (IgE) is elevated in patients who are prone to developing allergies.
Another blood test that may be helpful is a complete blood count that looks at the different kinds of blood cells that are present in the blood. One particular cell that is elevated in patients who are prone to allergies is known as the eosinophils. In some patients, an absolute eosinophil count (AEC) may be conducted to determine if the numbers are elevated. High levels of eosinophils mean that the patient is prone to developing allergies.
Seasonal Allergies TreatmentThe best treatment is prevention. Individuals who suffer from seasonal allergies will discover over a period of time the different substances that they are allergic to and can take appropriate measures to prevent themselves from being exposed to them. Having air purifiers at home can help to an extent but are not a definitive preventative solution.
In the event that patients develop seasonal allergies despite taking every preventative measure possible, certain treatments are available over-the-counter that can help. Below is a short list of some of the commonly used treatments.
1. Antihistamine medication: This includes drugs that stop the release of mediators within the blood stream that are responsible for the allergic reaction. They are extremely effective but have a small side-effect of causing slight drowsiness. However, newer drugs are now available that do not have the side-effect. Before taking any antihistamine medication, it is always worthwhile getting advice from a health care professional.
2. Decongestants: These are useful in patients who have a runny nose or a blocked nose. These agents thin the secretions and allow them to drain out of the sinuses easily. In addition, they also reduce any swelling and inflammation that is present within the sinuses that is responsible for a part of the allergic reaction. Decongestants are usually combined with antihistamine medication and are safe and effective.
3. Nasal steroids: This is a newer class of drugs that are delivered directly onto the nasal mucosa and can reduce the inflammation and reduction of mucus. These drugs are as well combined with antihistamines and decongestants.
4. Advanced therapies: The use of allergy shots i.e. immunotherapy may be helpful for some patients with seasonal allergies. They boost the body’s immune system and may help prevent outbreaks. However, these treatments are still in the early stages and much more research has to be conducted before they are used widely.