ACHOO! It’s that time of year again: birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and leaves are turning green. This might paint an idyllic picture, but to those who suffer from seasonal allergies, trees and flowers mean pollen.
According to Dr. Katie DeBold, clinical pharmacist at St. Louis University Hospital, about 40 million people in the U.S. are affected with allergies, which is about 20 percent of the population. “It is the sixth most prevalent chronic illness in the U.S.,” DeBold said.
Allergies happen when the body mistakes foreign substances as dangerous and goes into defense mode. Each person’s allergy season is also dependent on pollen sensitivity. Pollen from different plants are dormant at different times, such as ragweed, which is more active in fall. Trees are more active in spring, and grass pollinates in summer.
People suffering from allergies have more to worry about than just pollen. Pet dander, mold and dust also exacerbate allergies.
Dr. Rose Kumar, of the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, Wis., also stressed the importance of diet, especially during allergy season. “I cannot emphasize enough, the preventative effects of foods that are rich in vitamin C, carotenoids and antioxidants, such as citrus fruits, kale, collards, broccoli, elderberry, onions, garlic and parsley,” Kumar said. “Avoid sugar and inflammatory foods such as gluten-rich baked goods, foods containing high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and an overabundance of omega-6, such as red meat and pork.”
DeBold believes the key to relief is in prevention.
“The key to treating allergies is to begin medication before the anticipated allergen exposure,” DeBold said. “For example, if a patient knows that their allergies are the worst in spring, they should begin their medication regimen a couple weeks before spring. This is because most antihistamines are more effective at preventing the actions of histamine rather than reversing the actions once they’ve taken place.”
DeBold also said “there are some herbal supplements that may claim to treat allergies. The most common one is echinacea. There is mixed data about the effectiveness of echinacea and clinical trials have not been able to prove its efficacy in treating allergies,” DeBold said. “It’s important to remember that herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so there is no way to ensure the potency and safety of these medications.”
Allergies can develop at any age. Since there is no cure for the common cold, nor seasonal allergies, temporary aid is all that is available.
“It’s all about choosing what works for you.”