To learn how to identify and deal with the symptoms, we spoke to Jinlin Du, MD, who specializes in allergy and immunology at Crystal Run Healthcare in Middletown.
The short answer is yes, the epidemic of allergies is getting worse. A leading theory is the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that the revolution of public hygiene, from the personal level to our surrounding environment becoming so much cleaner, causes people to be more vulnerable to what used to be harmless allergens, such as pollens.
Another theory is climate change. We’re currently exposed to higher levels of pollen and longer pollen seasons. Between 1990 and 2018, the pollen season has lengthened by 20 days and has increased in concentration by 21 percent.
Although it’s impossible to completely avoid allergens, people who are prone to allergies can reduce their exposure and lessen symptoms with these tips: Keep your environment clean and dry by washing bedding weekly using hot water and drying on a high heat setting; use a dehumidifier in damp areas; and close the doors and windows during pollen season to reduce the exposure to both indoor (dust mites and molds) and outdoor (pollens) allergens.
There are several steps that can be taken to lower exposure to outdoor allergies. Try to spend your time outdoors in the early morning when the pollen count is relatively low. Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling, and other gardening activities when the pollen count is high, and wear a face mask when you do outdoor chores. Make sure you remove clothes you’ve worn outside and shower to rinse off pollen from your skin and hair once you’re back inside.
Cold symptoms—which can include fever, chills, fatigue, aches, and pains—usually last about a week. On the other hand, allergies do not present with that combination of symptoms and allergy symptoms can last for weeks to many months. It’s important to pay attention to specific symptoms, the duration of symptoms, and responsiveness to over-the-counter cold vs. allergy medications to figure out what you’re suffering from.
Certain allergy medications may work better than others. Nasal sprays or intranasal steroids are often recommended as the first line of treatment for people with persistent allergy symptoms. A single, non-sedating antihistamine may be sufficient when experiencing mild and intermittent allergy symptoms. And the combination of a nasal spray and antihistamine may be appropriate if symptoms are severe enough and not controlled by either medicine alone. An allergist can identify and diagnose your allergies, and then recommend the best treatment for you.
Developing allergies as an adult is frustrating but relatively common. It’s not always clear why some people develop them later in life. Possible causes include genetic and environmental factors that may put someone at a higher risk of developing allergies when that person is exposed to a new allergen, or an overreaction to an existing allergen that a person was exposed to in the past.
Unfortunately, consuming local honey is very unlikely to relieve allergy symptoms. There’s little scientific evidence to suggest that honey—local or not—can treat or cure seasonal allergies. While it may contain pollen from the immediate environment, local honey usually contains the flower pollen, rather than wind-driven pollens (i.e., pollens from trees, grasses, weeds, and ragweed) that are most often the causes of seasonal allergies. However, when used as a cough suppressant, honey may temporarily soothe symptoms of a cough and irritated throat.
A few evidence-based home remedies, including nasal saline irrigation, probiotics, and acupuncture, have been proven to be beneficial in easing allergy symptoms and can be considered alternatives to OTC allergy medications.
Related: How to Conquer Allergies When You Live in the Hudson Valley