Five myths about spring allergies

By Neeta Ogden | Special for The Washington Post

Each year, forecasters seem to predict that the worst allergy season is yet to come. And year after year, pollen counts get worse, partly because of climate change. The spring allergy season brings 50 million sneezing and wheezing to Americans in the halls of pharmacies, health food stores and doctors' offices seeking relief. But the causes and treatments of seasonal allergies remain the subject of some persistent myths. Here are the biggest ones.

Myth No. 1

Taking allergy medication every day can stop it from working.

Allergists like me constantly confront patients who believe in this, and who do not take their medications properly as a result. The online feature of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, "Ask the Expert," even sent a question from a doctor who recently asked if "daily antihistamines." . . it can result in tolerance. "

But multiple studies have denied this concern, although it is a common complaint among those suffering from allergies, the reality is that taking allergy medication every day does not lead to tolerance. who think their medications no longer work may find their symptoms worsen due to new allergies or moving to a new city or home Longer and more intense allergy seasons may mean that drugs that used to work well are no longer as effective. Some allergic people do not take their medications correctly or mistakenly believe that all medications are the same.

There is an overuse of some over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays, which offer temporary and rapid relief of congestion. dependence on these aerosols, especially when they treat chronic nasal congestion, which can affect sleep , food and quality of life in general. The continued use of these types of aerosols can actually cause rebound congestion and worsening nasal congestion, called rhinitis medicamentosa. To avoid this, people should stop using these sprays after three days. But intranasal steroids, a cornerstone of seasonal allergy treatment, do not create habit and can be used during the spring.

Myth No. 2

Blooming spring flowers cause allergies.

Media coverage of the spring allergy season routinely includes images of allergic people next to bright flowers. "Allergies come with spring flowers," NBC affiliate Helena, Montana, reported last month. Patients often tell me that they believe dogwood pollen and cherry blossoms, among other clbadic spring blooms, are causing their sneezing.

Actually, spring allergies are caused by tree pollen, not by flowers. The most allergenic trees, such as oak, birch or maple, have a minimum of flowers or do not. Their impact is significant because they produce a large amount of pollen, which is designed to be transported by the wind and can travel miles. Trees with pretty flowers, such as dogwoods or cherries; bulbs planted as tulips; and flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, roses and azaleas attract insects for pollination. Therefore, its pollen is rarely transmitted through the air and does not cause allergies, although it could be irritating if someone gets too close.

Myth No. 3

A cold, snowy winter and a late spring mean that allergies are not so bad.

This year, until mid-April, when the allergy season is usually very advanced, much of the United States was still battling colds, viruses and even the flu in winter. This may have led many to believe that spring allergies would not be so bad. Local news reports from Wisconsin to Rhode Island stated that the tree allergy season was "delayed" or "stuck" because of the prolonged winter.

In fact, spring allergies begin well before spring. The life cycle of the plants begins in winter, with snow and rain providing the moisture essential for growth. Increasing temperatures and longer days with more sunlight trigger pollination; for February and early March, cities in the United States are already registering pollen in the air, especially in southern cities. Studies show that warmer temperatures and higher CO2 levels badociated with climate change are contributing to earlier and more robust plant growth and pollination. As a result, a 2013 study at Rutgers University discovered that the allergy season has increased by approximately half a day for the past 20 years. A "late" spring start does not mean much when the Earth in general is warmer, the seasons are longer and the exposure to pollen is more intense.

Myth No. 4

I do not have to worry about my allergies until I see pollen everywhere.

This time of the season is the busiest for allergy offices, with people who tend to wait until allergies peak-and feel truly miserable-to seek help. A 2015 study in the journal Environmental Health found that sales of over-the-counter allergy medications correlated with the peak dates of the spring allergy season.

But if you see a little yellow pollen everywhere, it may be too late to treat allergies effectively. Most allergists recommend that their patients begin treatment at least two weeks before the season begins. The end of winter means that the miserable cycle of symptoms that we normally badociate with spring is already underway. When temperatures begin to warm up, allergic people are exposed to pollen, which can trigger mild symptoms. Often, temperatures fall again and exposure to pollen is minimal, but when warmer temperatures and pollen counts increase, the body is "prepared" and hyperreactive. Even minimal amounts of pollen can cause a strong reaction upon re-exposure. Physiologically, the priming effect is due to increased reactivity of the nasal membrane with repeated exposure to pollen. Once priming occurs, it can take days or weeks to reverse, hence the benefit of being armed with early allergy medications.

Myth No. 5

Eating local honey will cure allergies.

The Internet is full of intentional sites that repeat the long-held belief that local honey can soothe allergies. "To be effective, you must meet these criteria," says, one of those sites, suggesting that honey must be raw and must be made from plants to which allergic people are allergic. [19659007] But while honey may have some antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, the idea that it can prevent allergies is a misconception. The theory is that as the bees move among the flowers, they pick up the pollen spores that are then transferred to their honey; Gradual exposure to these local allergens supposedly provides immunity. The concept is not so out of place: allergen immunotherapy, or "allergy shots," works in a similar way, but the injections contain a pollen concentration much higher than the minimum amount in honey. In addition, the pollen that causes allergies is transmitted by the wind and does not come from the pollen of the flowers that the bees disseminate.

A 2002 study in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology followed three allergic groups during the spring allergy season. One group consumed a daily spoonful of honey of local origin; another ate commercial honey; one third received a placebo of honey-flavored corn syrup. The symptoms of the subjects were recorded and, after several months, the scientists discovered that honey had no benefit over the placebo.

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