Ask an Expert: Why must seasonal allergies make me suffer so?

Respirologist Dr. Chris Carlsten clears the air about seasonal allergies and how to find relief from symptoms.

Q: My allergy symptoms – itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, runny nose – make me feel wretched year after year. What is my body trying to do?
Allergic reactions are the body’s normal immune system working a bit too well, overreacting to a foreign substance such as pollen or grass. There is no real ‘purpose’, but for some of us, the body reacts very strongly to common things in the air.

Q: What can I do to lessen my allergy symptoms and feel somewhat ‘normal’ again?
The key to lessened allergy symptoms is avoiding exposure to whatever you are allergic to. For example, many of us are allergic to dust mites and do not know it. If we become aware of this, then we can add special covers to our mattresses and pillows. If avoidance is not possible, antihistamines can help. In severe cases, desensitization with the assistance of a trained specialist can help.

Q: Are trees or flowers more to blame for allergies? How can I find out exactly what I’m allergic to?
Trees are probably worse than flowers but there is a lot of variability in what one individual will react to. The best way to find out is usually through a ‘skin prick test’, typically done by an allergy or respirology clinic.

Q: How much does environmental pollution exacerbate allergies?
Certainly air pollution and allergens each trigger significant airway disease such as an asthma attack. Research suggests that air pollution can cause someone to become allergic in the first place, but the degree to which the combination of air pollution and allergens causes actual clinical problems remains unclear.  Hopefully our research will help answer that question.

Q: What is the connection between allergies and asthma?
Asthma is divided into allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma. Allergies are the basis for allergic asthma – if you have allergic rhinitis (inflamed nose due to pollen allergy, for example) then your risk of allergic asthma is considerably increased. However, allergies probably do not much affect the risk for non-allergic asthma.

Q: Can I blame my parents for my allergies – are they genetic?
There is a strong genetic component to allergies, but genetics only explain a fraction of allergies. So I suppose you could blame your parents a little but it would not help!


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