Most look forward to the start of the warmer weather. Unfortunately for many of us, when nice greenery comes into bloom so do allergies.
Professor Claudia Gray, of the Kidsallergy Clinic, an allergy specialist, explains hayfever as the typical form of allergic rhinitis characteristic of grass pollen season, occurring mainly in spring and summer.
Trees, grass, and weeds release these tiny grains into the air to fertilise other plants. When they get into the nose of someone who’s allergic to pollen, they send the body into defence mode.
The immune system mistakenly sees the pollen as a danger and releases antibodies that attack the allergens.
Gray says that hayfever sufferers complain of an itchy, sneezy, runny or congested nose, and often have itchy eyes and even itching in the ears and palate.
“This can make the sufferer feel miserable, and even lead to complications such as sinusitis or middle ear infection if left untreated. Asthma sufferers can also experience a worsening of asthma during the pollen season if they are allergic to pollens.”
How long does an allergy last? According to Gray, it depends on the allergen. If the allergy sufferer is allergic to indoor allergens such as house dust mite, animal dander or mould, the allergies can be all year round.
“If the sufferer is allergic to a seasonal pollen, then the allergy lasts as long as the pollen is in the air. Tree pollen seasons usually last 2-3 months; whereas the grass pollen season is long in South Africa and lasts up to 6 months, from around September to March.”
Many pollen sufferers have been complaining that this year’s sneezing season seems to be worse than in other years.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, said that while pollen levels decrease in times of drought, rainfall days are fewer too, which means there is less relief for those with a sensitivity to pollen. Rainfall generally washes pollen and fungal spores from the air, which occurs less often in drought years.
“During a normal spring season, grass levels tend to rise slowly as they do when rain interrupts pollen release. Sensitised individuals then have a slower exposure to pollen levels. When no or little rain falls, the exposure to significant pollen counts is sudden, which may exacerbate seasonal pollen symptoms.”
She also points out that “contributing to the issue, are the extended summers brought on by global warming, which means that pollen-producing plants, such as flowers, trees, grasses and weeds have a much longer pollen-producing season than in the past.”
When asked why eye infection is common at this time of the year, Gray explains that eye infections are most commonly a viral conjunctivitis such as “pink eye” and often occur when new viruses are around with change of season. Gastroenteritis (tummy bugs) is more common in the summer , and some gastro viruses also cause an eye infection as part of the virus.
Best way to treat allergy for the family
Gray says that first of all allergies should be properly diagnosed and assessed by an expert such as an allergologist. The patient’s history will be taken carefully and a detailed examination performed. Then allergy tests will be done (skin prick tests or blood tests) to identify what the patient is allergic to. Based on the allergy and the symptoms, the treatment will be tailored to the individual patient.
Basically, the management consists of avoiding the allergen as far as possible; treating the symptoms medically with a corticosteroid nasal spray and sometimes also an antihistamine, using eye drops for eye symptoms, and treating underlying asthma well with an asthma pump or suitable oral treatment.
In some cases, immunotherapy will be offered: this consists of giving small amounts of a special solution containing the allergen sublingually (under the tongue) on a daily basis for a few years to desensitise the body against the allergen.
Best way to treat kid’s allergy
WebMD, an online portal of information pertaining to human health and well-being, suggests staying inside.
“The best way to treat allergy symptoms is to avoid allergens to begin with. So when pollen counts soar, keep kids indoors as much as possible. Pollen is usually at its peak mid-morning, early evening, and when the wind is blowing.”
Another suggestion is to use salt water. Having a plugged-up nose can be one of the toughest symptoms for children with allergies. “For relief, older children might want to try nasal irrigation with a saline solution.” You can buy saline at the pharmacy or make your own at home.
You can also make dietary changes, if your kids will eat spicy foods, a dish made with cayenne pepper, hot ginger, fenugreek, onions, or garlic may help thin mucus and clear nasal passages
Daily Mail newspaper in London reported that homeopaths may also be useful in treating hayfever.
Dr Charlotte Mendes da Costa, a GP and homeopath, said: “If patients have tried other remedies and prescribed medicines without success, or simply prefer not to take over the counter medication, homeopathy can be an excellent solution.”
She suggests Allium Cepa, a derivative of onion, which comes in tablet form. The principle of homeopathy is that like cures like.
“A substance, such as onion, which would produce symptoms similar to hayfever in a healthy person, is given in a tiny and harmless amount, alleviating discomfort.
Systematic reviews and controlled trials have shown positive results for homeopathy and the treatment of allergic rhinitis.”