Hay Fever Season is a Sneeze Away

“We’re invited to a hay ride,” my childhood girlfriend said when we were young teens. “And Dicky Engall is going to be there!” Well, she didn’t have to ask me twice since she knew that I had a terrific crush on him. And, soon we were off bouncing along in a cart full of freshly cut hay, pulled by a couple of snorting horses.

Almost immediately I started sneezing. So violently I couldn’t catch my breath. My face began to swell and one of the chaperones thought it prudent to call my mother to take me home.

“NO!” I cried, trying to flirt with Dicky through red-rimmed eyes. “I’ll be okay, really I will,” smiling at him in spite of the mucus flowing out of my nose. But, Mom arrived and whisked me away. Sad to say, Dickie Engall wasn’t impressed.

Like an estimated 40 to 60 million Americans I suffer from hay fever, more properly known as allergic rhinitis. Caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or in my case hay and horses, symptoms sometimes mirror those of a cold. But, we all know colds are caused by a virus. Allergies are not.

“When you have hay fever your immune system identifies a harmless airborne substance as harmful. Your immune system then produces antibodies to this harmless substance. The next time you come in contact with the substance, these antibodies signal your immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream, which cause a reaction that leads to the signs and symptoms of hay fever,” Mayo Clinic’s website explains.

Besides sneezing and nasal congestion, symptoms include watery, itchy, red eyes, coughing, postnasal drip, swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes (called allergic shiners) and fatigue. Typically hay fever comes on or worsens at a particular time of year.

“Triggers include tree pollen, which is common in early spring and grass pollen, which is common in late spring and summer,” Mayo Clinic says. “Ragweed pollen is most common in the fall. Dust mites, cockroaches and dander from pets can occur year-round. Symptoms to indoor allergens might worsen in winter when houses are closed up.”

Both indoor and outdoor fungi and molds can trigger hay fever symptoms and they can do it both seasonally and perennially. Other common irritants are cigarette smoke (quit now, I tell you), strong odors such as perfume or hair spray, other cosmetics, laundry detergents, cleaning solutions, pool chlorine and car exhaust.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology suggests that the best management and treatment is to avoid the triggers you’re allergic to. That makes sense.

“Keep windows closed during high pollen periods; use air conditioning in your home and car,” they say. “Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes. Use ‘mite-proof’ bedding covers to limit exposure to dust mites and a dehumidifier to control mold. Wash your hands after petting any animal and have a nonallergic person help with pet grooming, preferably in a well-ventilated area or outside.”

Don’t hang clothes outside to dry as pollen can cling to towels and sheets and wear a pollen mask when mowing the lawn or raking. Try not to rub your eyes. That can make your symptoms worse. To limit mold, clean your bathroom and kitchen regularly. Clean floors with a damp rag or mop.

Over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines may alleviate your symptoms. But, since antihistamines can interfere with prescription medicines, please don’t start taking them until you’ve had a conversation with your healthcare provider. And, beware: sometimes even the antihistamines that claim to be non-drowsy can make you sleepy. So, know how you react to them before driving or using power tools.

About a year after the hay ride episode, miracle of miracles, Dicky Engall and I both attended an outing to a local theme park. After eating a corn dog, caramel corn and an ice cream cone he double-dog dared me to ride the roller coaster with him. I vomited. Sad to say, he wasn’t impressed then either!

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.