Tips for Spring Allergies
Many people love springtime, characterized by pleasant weather and beautiful blossoms. At the same time, for those who suffer allergies from dust and pollen, Spring means a time of red, teary and itchy eyes, sneezing, prickly and runny noses, and sometimes, difficulty with breathing and wheezing. These symptoms are an expression of seasonal allergic nose runs, also called seasonal asthma or hay fever. Prof. Avraham Bigelman, Director of the Institute of Immunology and Allergy at Schneider Children’s, and senior physician Dr. Yael Levy, explain what allergies are, how we might prevent exposure to allergens, and how to diagnose allergies and treat them.
An allergy is an unwanted and unexpected immune reaction to substances which usually do not cause disease. In normal circumstances, our Immune System knows how to identify bodies that might be detrimental to the body, such as bacteria or viruses, and destroys them. In people with allergies, the Immune System reacts when it identifies substances that are non-threatening such as pollens, mold and various foods, and produces antibodies that cause the allergic reaction. The causal substance is called an allergen. According to research studies conducted in Israel and abroad, one in five people suffer from some kind of allergy.
It seems that springtime is The Time for allergies due to the prevalence of pollen from different plants (mainly those without colorful flowers pollinated by insects) which are air-borne in the warmer and drier atmosphere. As a result of the contact between pollen in the air and mucus in the nose and air passages, certain cells in the mucus release a substance called histamine which causes the various allergies. It is important to know that while the incidence of spring allergies is high, allergic symptoms occur year-round. Plant allergens prevalent in Israel mainly in the Spring emanate from cedars (which blossom in February), olive, pecan and date palms, plants from the grain family and various shrubs.
Those who are allergic to plant pollens in the Spring should refrain from nature hikes during blossom-time such as in areas where there are olive trees. Car windows should be kept closed while traveling through these areas. People who live in such areas should keep windows closed at home where possible and switch on air-conditioners.
Allergies are caused by a combination of inherited genes with exposure to the allergen. The tendency to develop an allergy exists all the time although clinical manifestation can vary between chronic illness of the respiratory passages, such as asthma, and short-term seasonal flare-ups.
Allergy diagnosis is a painless, simple and speedy process, and performed in the Allergy Clinic. Through a slight pinprick, tiny drops of various allergens are tested on the hands allowing the substances to seep beneath the skin surface. Any allergic reaction will appear in about 15 minutes, confirming sensitivity to that particular substance. The Allergy Clinic at Schneider Children’s conducts various tests on the skin of the hands. Treatment includes medications such as oral antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops, with lung inhalations prescribed for asthmatics. The Clinic also provides immune treatment (desensitization - “allergy vaccines”) against environmental allergens.