Tissue Time

| May 03, 2005

May flowers can bring nasty allergies.

Ah, spring!

With it comes a chance to roll down the tractor windows, smell the fresh clean air and watch nature burst into bloom. And to sneeze.

Because when spring is in the air it means coughing, sneezing, watering eyes and a runny nose for many people.

Allergies can be caused by anything from flowers to roaches. They are really just an overreaction of your immune system to irritating substances in the environment.

About one out of every five people has allergies, and they are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. Most allergies are hereditary. If a parent is allergic to a particular substance, the child is at a 50 percent risk of having the same allergy.

Exposure to allergy-causing elements is actually harmless, but the immune system reacts as if the body is under attack.

Allergies are either seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies are caused by elements in the outside air, like blooming plants and the pollen they create. Perennial allergies can occur year-round and are triggered by elements indoors like animal dander, dust and mold.

Regardless of the type of allergy, when something such as pollen or dust is inhaled, the allergic reaction will occur in the lungs, the eyes or the nose. Sometimes after long-term exposure to a substance, congestion, dizziness and itchiness may occur as well.

Allergies to pollen are the most common type battled during the spring because most blooming plants create pollen, which is released into the air. Some common plant allergens are ragweed, thistle and grasses, as well as some hardwood trees like oak, elm, cedar and maple. Exposure to pollen causes what is known as hay fever, which can trigger sneezing fits and runny or stuffy noses. The only way to lessen exposure to pollen is to close windows and use air conditioning when pollen counts are elevated.

Pollen counts, which measure the amount of pollen in the air, can be very useful when determining how severe allergic reactions may be or when to stay inside. Pollen counts are sometimes included in weather reports on local television stations or radio, and you can find them easily with an Internet search. The count is measured by grains of pollen per square meter collected over a 24-hour period. This number represents the concentration of all the pollen in the air in a certain area at a specific time. The pollen count level can be high, medium or low.

Other sources of allergies are things like dust mites, molds and animal dander. Dust mites are microscopic organisms that can live in house dust and moldy, musty furniture. Much like fleas, dust mites can produce a painful bite and cause rash and itching. Washing bed sheets once a week in hot water and dusting often are the best ways to prevent these annoying pests.

Mold is a fungus that originates in damp areas both inside and out. Outside mold floats in the air like pollen and creates the same sneezing and difficulty breathing that pollen does.

Animal dander, or hair, is also another key cause of allergies. When furry animals molt in the springtime, allergies to pets can be more pronounced than ever. It may be a good idea to avoid exposure to pets, or wash or brush the pet weekly to prevent a buildup of hair from collecting in the house, the cab or on your pet itself.

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