The scent of freshly mowed lawns, blooming flowers and blossoming trees signal that spring and summer are here, but for allergy sufferers this likely means more than just the arrival of a new season. For allergy sufferers and their parents, these scents can signal the start of allergy season.
So what causes those pesky allergies?
Allergies occur due to an immune response. Once someone with the potential for allergies is exposed to a specific allergen, the body will prime itself to recognize that allergen and upon further exposure will stimulate an allergic cascade ultimately leading to inflammation. The receptors that allergens will bind to can be found in the skin, nose, mucous membranes and lungs, which is why the predominant symptoms of allergies are in these regions.
Symptoms of allergies
Allergy symptoms occur due to inflammation. On the skin, a rash like eczema or hives is often the predominant finding. When the nose and mucus membranes are affected, nasal itching, sneezing, congestion and clear drainage from the nose is common. Some people also have ocular symptoms with itchy, clear drainage and swelling around the eyes. For those with asthma, allergens are often a trigger of their symptoms; cough and shortness of breath may occur after allergen exposure. Despite the organ systems affected, allergies don’t cause fever so if your child has a fever it’s likely something else.
Who is affected and why?
The potential to develop allergies is genetic. If one parent of a child has allergies their child has a 1/3 chance of developing allergies. If both parents have allergies, their child has a 2/3 chance of developing allergies. While the allergic potential is passed on, the individual allergies aren’t. For example, having a parent with a shellfish allergy doesn’t mean that same allergy will be passed on, but the child has a chance of developing allergies such as atopic dermatitis, food allergy, asthma or allergic rhinitis.
If you find yourself reaching for a tissue every time you walk past a freshly cut lawn, it can be pretty easy to determine the trigger for your symptoms. But for those who have symptoms all year or all season long, allergy testing may be helpful in determining triggers.
Allergy testing can be accomplished by a blood test or by a skin prick test in which small amounts of allergen are scratched onto the skin and after waiting approximately 15 minutes, an allergic response is measured on the skin by a surrounding hive and redness.
What can you do?
Allergy treatment is often effective at improving quality of life. Allergy treatment is typically managed with a three-step approach.
- The first step is avoidance. This is much easier to do with a specific food or medication allergy, but nearly impossible with a seasonal allergen.
- The second step is reducing the inflammatory mediators caused by the allergic response. This can be accomplished through medications such as antihistamines and nasal steroids. For those with skin problems, using a non-scented soap and applying a good moisturizer like Cerave twice daily and immediately after a bath with Vaseline or Aquaphor to dry spots can be very helpful. While many medications are available over-the-counter, it’s always best to check with your child’s pediatrician or allergist before starting a new medication to make sure the medication and dosing are safe and appropriate for your child.
- Third, allergen injections can be tailored to a person’s specific allergies and given regularly over a three- to five-year period to desensitize a person to the specific allergens triggering their symptoms.
If you think that you or child’s symptoms might be due to allergies, it’s always best to check in with your physician. Hopefully with treatment, the scents of a new season can mean more time spent outside and less time reaching for a tissue.
– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of a toddler and volunteers with the Parenting Program.