Blocked or runny nose, frequent sneezing, watery eyes, itchy throat and eyelids are the usual signs of hay fever, caused by a systemic overreaction to excessive amounts of pollen that we breathe in. The immune system detects the tiny plant particles and treats them as dangerous intruders that need eliminating. There are countless other materials that your body simply identifies as foreign matter without blowing the whistle and triggering a belligerent immune response.
When all-out war is waged on the tiny pollens, however, you immediately feel as if you had the cold. The only difference is that the common cold clears up in a few days while an allergic reaction drags on. The ensuing respiratory problems call for a specialist to diagnose whether it is an allergic response or the marker of some other health condition.
The next thing to find out is precisely what allergens cause the symptoms and to what extent. If you know that you’re affected, it is advisable to book an appointment with an ENT specialist well before the pollen season and take precautionary measures, because the immune reaction could lead to other inflammatory conditions, such as otitis, sinusitis or even pneumonia.
The uncomfortable symptoms of inflamed mucous membranes need proper treatment to avoid the onset of bacterial or viral infection. Further more, swollen nasal passages obstruct breathing and fail to filter out pathogens.
You should be aware of the strange phenomenon of cross-reactivity, which may aggravate allergic symptoms. The reason behind cross-reactivity is the structure of the protein in certain foods, which closely resembles that of the allergens found in the pollen of ragweed. When pollen concentration is particularly high, some of these fruits and vegetables (e.g. tomato and watermelon) may trigger an allergic reaction on their own.
What to do?
Doctor’s Order - Prof. Dr. Kristóf Nékám, allergologist and clinical immunologist at Dr. Rose Private Hospital
Allergy is caused by the release of the hormone histamine into the system when the immune system detects allergens to be eliminated.
The unpleasant symptoms can be treated with antihistamine drugs, anti-inflammatory nasal spray and eye drops if need be – possibly administered as a preventive measure before the pollen season is in full swing. Proper medication can be extremely effective to fend off further complications.
Some pollens (like the dreaded ragweed) are in such high concentration in high season that they may provoke an asthma attack.
As the weather is warming we open the doors and windows more often, letting in fresh air and all those pollens. Not to mention that we carry the allergens into our homes and offices on our clothes, shoes and hair. In case you have an acute case of allergy in the family, make sure that you air the rooms early morning or late evening, you wash your hair daily, change right away when you come home and dry your laundry indoors, or better still, in a tumble dryer. Cleaning and changing the pollen filter in the car and the air conditioner is also a good idea.