Updated 04 July 2014

Spring time - grey days for allergy sufferers

For allergy sufferers, Spring tends to be a miserable time of the year.

Sunshine, colour, picnics, blossoms – these are just some of the reasons why most people love spring. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, this tends to be a miserable time of the year.

“As winter ends and blossoms appear, asthma, hay-fever, allergic conjunctivitis and even eczema begin to flare up”, says Dr Nicola Rains, a general practitioner at NHC Health Centres (note to editors: please refer to company as indicated).

Allergies are particularly severe in spring due to the increased amount of pollen in the air. Pollen is typically found in trees from early August, grass from October to January and flowers later in summer. Since pollen grains are airborne, they are easily inhaled, and could also possibly land in the eyes.

Allergies are not only caused by pollen. Pets, dust-mites, foods, moulds, room fresheners are also triggers of allergic reactions.

According to the Allergy Society of South Africa, up to 20% of South Africans suffer from allergic reactions, with those living in the Highveld particularly prone to this condition.

Some of the symptoms of spring allergies include sneezing, wheezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and watery, red or itchy eyes, headaches and coughing.

Says Dr Rains: “Unfortunately it is impossible to fully protect yourself against exposure to pollen, especially with the types of outdoor activities that people engage in during the warm seasons. However, there are a few things that you can do to minimise exposure”.

“Mid-morning is when pollen levels in the air are at their highest. During this time make sure you stay away from densely planted areas. Also stay clear during hot humid weather especially after thunderstorms, rainfall contributes to a rise in pollen spore counts in the grass/plants. Staying indoors on windy days, keeping the car and bedroom windows closed, recycling car air whilst driving, and having a filter in your air-conditioning system will also help”.

If you are going to work in the garden, you could wear a dust mask or wet handkerchief over your mouth and nose. You could also avoid hanging washing outdoors on windy days and refrain from keeping flowers indoors.

If you are sending flowers to an allergic individual, refrain from choosing allergenic flowers which predominantly include wind-pollinated, darker-coloured plants. These flowers are usually not scented or include nectar. Brighter-coloured flowers depend on insects to carry their pollen to another flower for cross-pollination; therefore their pollen is heavy and is usually not found in the air. The brighter the flower the less-likely it is to cause allergies.

“Prevention is better than cure, but if you do experience symptoms associated with spring allergies, there is medical treatment available for relief,” says Dr Rains.

Antihistamines and decongestants are the best treatments for spring allergy symptoms, but they will not cure your allergies. Antihistamines target the chemical called histamine, which your body makes when you have an allergic reaction.

Antihistamines are available in pill form and are useful for relieving your sneezing, itchy and runny nose. Topical corticosteroids in the form of a nasal spray are the most effective maintenance therapy for intermittent and persistent allergic rhinitis. These should be started 2 weeks before the onset of the season and continued until it is over.

Allergic conjunctivitis may respond to anti-allergy eye drops but if the redness or irritation persists beyond 48 hours, it is best to seek medical attention.

The best way to investigate the triggers of these symptoms is a simple skin patch allergy test for inhalants which is requested by your doctor. The laboratory typically use allergens, such as pollen, cat/dog hair, and apply it to the outer layer of your skin, and will then check for any reactions  at 72 hours“, explains Dr Rains.

“Everyone loves spring because this is the time when we get do to the outdoor activities that we enjoy. For allergy sufferers, this does not mean they should hide themselves indoors. Being aware of your environment, taking necessary precautions when outside and making sure you have medical treatment on hand – will help make your springs days a little easier”, says Dr Rains.



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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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