This is everything you need to know about environmental allergies

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If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you've likely been sniffling your way through the days now that the warmer weather is approaching. This year's allergy season is expected to be especially insufferable. Dr. Dina Kulik (@DrDinaKulik) stopped by The Social to explain seasonal allergies and how to minimize the effects.
 
 
What is hayfever? All about environmental allergies in kids
 
While most rejoice when winter is over, for kids with spring environmental allergies the season of runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and rash is just beginning. This is called hayfever. Environmental allergies are staggeringly common, affecting at least 75% of kids, and account for many missed days of school.
 
What are allergies?
 
An allergy is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to an ‘allergen’, a substance harmless to most people. The body sees the allergen as an invader and fights against it, producing antibodies called immunoglobulim E (IgE). These antibodies cause mast cells and basophils to release histamine to defend against the ‘invader’.
 
The release of histamine leads to the allergy symptoms.  Future exposure to the allergen leads to the same allergic response. This reaction can happen each time the person is exposed which may happen year round or seasonally. 
 
When is allergy season? 
 
Environmental allergies to pollens begin when flowers bloom and pollen is released into the air, usually March. It ends when the frost comes, usually in fall. 
 
Who is affected?
 
We rarely see environmental allergies in children less than 2 years of age. Ongoing sensitization to allergens over these early years can lead to symptoms later on. Kids are often playing outdoors and are exposed to allergens in the air often, which leads to symptoms. 
 
Unfortunately for many, allergies have a hereditary component, and parents with allergies (or eczema or asthma), tend to have children with the same. People that have one allergy are at risk of other allergies as well. 
 
What are the most common environmental allergens?
  1. Dust mite allergies – these are one of the most common types of allergies. Dust mites are microscopic insects that feed on dead skin cells that normally fall off our body. They are the main component of house dust and are all around us. They live in our mattress, pillows, drapery, rugs, bedding – everywhere. They are hard to avoid and can cause year round allergy symptoms
  2. Pollen – another common cause of allergies, usually seasonal. Grasses and trees release particles into the air to fertilize other plants. When the trees pollenate will affect when allergy symptoms occur. Tree pollination takes place late winter to late spring, grass pollinates through the summer and ragweed pollinates in the fall. People with pollen allergies can look at pollen counts to see how bad their allergy symptoms might be that day
  3. Mold – a very common allergen, mold is a fungi that loves wet, dark and poorly ventilated areas such as basements and bathrooms. 
  4. Pet dander – Dander is flakes of shed skin. Some people are allergic to animal saliva as well. 
Symptoms of an allergic reaction
 
Children may have anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction. If you are worried your child is having an anaphylactic reaction, please call 911. Symptoms of allergies in kids can be very frustrating in kids, especially if they prevent a good night’s sleep. Kids with environmental allergies have:
  • Itchy, watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Nasal congestion and rhinitis
  • Cough or throat clearing (from post-nasal drip)
  • Sneezing
  • Dark circles under the eyes (‘allergic shiners’)
  • Nasal crease – a crease across the nasal bridge from rubbing the nose repeatedly
I am often asked:
  • Can allergies cause a fever – No
  • Can allergies make you tired – Sure, if you aren’t sleeping as well at night and your body is working overtime to combat the allergens.
  • Can allergies cause headaches – Absolutely, the chronic congestion can lead to sinus headaches. Poor sleep can lead to tension headaches. 
  • Can you have allergies in winter? – Many people are allergic to dust mites, pet dander, foods and medicines, and these can cause allergic reactions all year. 
How do we diagnose allergies?
 
We are usually able to identify allergies due to a pattern of symptoms following exposure to the allergen in question. To identify the specific trigger we perform skin prick testing, introducing a miniscule amount of allergen into the skin to see a reaction, identified as a swelling on the skin that looks like a mosquito bite. Blood tests are sometimes performed to see the bodies IgE level of that allergen. 
 
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