Sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes – allergy symptoms like these can disrupt your daily routine and ruin your fun. New York‘s thriving cities and diverse landscapes are full of allergens. These derive from trees, plants, grasses, mold, dust mites, pet dander, and much more. And don’t forget your animal friends. Dogs and cats can be susceptible to the same allergies as humans. They can take some of the same medicines in a limited dose determined by your veterinarian. Whether you’re a permanent New Yorker or a visitor, this article will help you enjoy the state more. It explains what causes allergies, when it’s allergy season in New York, and how you can prevent and treat allergies.
What Causes Allergies?
Allergic symptoms happen when your immune system over-reacts to allergens such as pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. Other allergens are mold, dust mites, insect stings, pet dander, certain medications, foods, or chemicals. The body releases histamine and other chemicals to fight off these harmless substances. It is this reaction from your body that causes those annoying symptoms.
People can be allergic to more than one thing. New allergies can develop over time, and old ones can fade away. Children, for example, may outgrow some food allergies, but don’t test this out on your child without consulting your pediatrician! Allergy symptoms may be worse in some years than others because of factors like temperature, weather conditions, and more. An exceptionally rainy season can cause mold to flourish. A dry season might create more airborne allergens. It could create conditions for forest fires that put ash particles into the air.
Untreated allergies can become a serious health issue. Allergies can lead to sinusitis, aggravated asthma symptoms, ear infections, and even anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that constricts breathing and causes blood pressure to drop dangerously in a highly allergic person. A person going into anaphylactic shock needs to be injected immediately with an epi-pen and emergency services should be called.
You can protect yourself from allergies by preventing exposure to allergens and taking antihistamines and other medications for your symptoms. An allergist can test you to see what allergens you are sensitive to. This way, you can stay away from these triggers as much as possible. Your allergist can talk with you about options for treatment. For instance, you might be gradually exposed to small amounts of an allergen so the body will build antibodies.
What Time is Allergy Season in New York?
Many people think first of the urban parts of New York. But much of the state is rural and some parts are heavily forested. Forests in New York can be deciduous or coniferous depending on the geographic region and elevation. You can find oak, hickory, hemlock, maple, beech, and birch as well as spruces, firs, and other evergreens. New York also has wetlands, grasslands, and, surprisingly, even some alpine tundra in the Adirondack Mountains. These are the main allergens in New York and the peak seasons for each:
- Tree pollen usually peaks in April and May. The most problematic tree pollens in this season come from oak, maple, birch, and ash.
- Grass pollen season happens in June and July. Timothy grass, orchard grass, and bluegrass all pollinate at that time.
- Weeds pollinate around August and September. If you are allergic to ragweed, goldenrod, or pigweed, mark those dates on your calendar and keep medicine ready.
- Mold is a problem all year, but is worse in autumn and winter months when it’s colder and more humid.
- Dust mites can be present all year in a warm house. You’ll want to battle these around the calendar by keeping your bedding, towels, and curtains clean.
The timing of allergy season can differ year-to-year based on weather conditions and other factors.
How Does Pollen Count Relate to Allergies?
Plants release pollen, a fine powder, as part of their reproduction process. The time it is released differs depending on the plant species and the environmental conditions each year. Tree pollen is more common in the spring, grass pollen in the summer, and weed pollen in the fall. Factors such as temperature, humidity, windspeed, and direction can all influence the severity of airborne pollen.
Pollen count is a measure of how many grains per cubic meter of air are present at the time of measurement. During allergy season in New York, pollen count may be measured daily or even hourly. Pollen counts of 100 or more grains per cubic meter of air are high. But people who are very sensitive to certain pollens may still have allergic reactions at lower pollen levels. Local news media, meteorology research centers, and online websites will keep you updated on pollen levels in your area.
What is Involved in Allergy Testing?
If you’re having allergy symptoms and want to find out what’s causing them, schedule an appointment for allergy testing. Your allergist has several different options for testing you, including:
- A skin prick test: an allergen extract is placed on the skin, usually the forearm or back. The allergist picks it with a needle to let the allergen get under the skin. If a red bump appears at the site in 15-20 minutes, that means you are allergic to that substance. Allergists usually test patients for multiple allergies at the same time, not just one at a time.
- A blood test: A blood test, such as the RAST test (Radioallergosorbent test) or ELISA test (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay), can measure the levels of specific antibodies in the blood to find out whether you have had an allergic response in the past.
- A patch test: like the skin prick test, the patch test involves putting a small amount of allergen on your skin. In this case, though, the allergen is on a patch that is placed on the skin for 48 hours. If you’re allergic, a red itchy rash will tell you so.
- A challenge test: if other tests are inconclusive, the patient can be given increasing doses of an allergen to see if a reaction will occur. This test should be done under medical supervision.
My Test was Negative, So Why do I Have Symptoms?
It’s possible to have allergy symptoms even if the results of your allergy tests are negative. Some possible causes of these symptoms are:
- Infections: your sneezing, runny nose, and congestion could be a cold, the flu, a sinus infection or a respiratory infection.
- Environmental irritants: smoke, pollen, chemicals, perfumes, cleaning products, and even the smell of carpet can irritate your eyes and nose.
- Medications: some medications, such as aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause hives and itchy eyes.
- Hormonal changes: hormonal changes can happen in men or women. These can cause symptoms like nasal congestion and itchy eyes.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): stomach acid can reflux into the throat and nose, causing heartburn, chest pain, and hoarseness, nasal congestion and post-nasal drip.
- Psychological factors: stress and anxiety can cause symptoms such as hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.
- Non-allergic rhinitis: This condition, also known as vasomotor rhinitis, is characterized by symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, and sneezing, but without an identified allergen.
These causes can overlap, and some people may have a combination of allergic and non-allergic causes for their symptoms.
Allergy Prevention Strategies
Prevention is your first line of defense against allergies. Here are some tips to help you survive allergy season in New York:
- Avoid outdoor activities during allergy season, especially in the mornings when pollen counts are highest.
- Close your doors and windows to keep outdoor allergens out of your living space.
- Use air conditioning and/or air purifiers to filter out allergens
- Dust and vacuum regularly to reduce allergens in your home. Dust with a microstatic cloth to avoid just stirring up dust without catching and removing it.
- Change your furnace filter regularly. Look for HEPA filters that are highly efficient in removing airborne particles.
- Change clothes and shower after being outside to remove allergens that have settled on you.
- Wear a mask when going outdoors.
- If you are allergic to plants or trees on your property, consider replacing them with species you are not allergic to.
- Wash bedding, towels, and curtains in hot water frequently to kill dust mites.
- Switch to fragrance-free detergents and tissues to prevent non-allergenic rhinitis flareups.
- Take over-the-counter medication such as an antihistamine to alleviate annoying symptoms. Read the instructions carefully as some medications may cause sleepiness. You might need to vary the medications from time to time as well, as they can lose their effectiveness after a while.
- See an allergist to discuss ways to avoid and treat allergic reactions.
Medical Interventions for Allergies
Medically, over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, eye drops, or anti-itch creams can make allergy season in New York more bearable. It can be a good idea to mark your calendar when you notice your allergy symptoms are worse, and when they seem to get better. Mark your online calendar to notify you next year before the start of allergy season so that you can start taking over-the-counter medications proactively.
If your allergies are severe, maybe you would like to try immunotherapy. During this process, you will receive injections of allergens in repeated small doses to prompt your body to create antibodies to them. If you have a potentially life-threatening allergy, such as to peanuts, shellfish, or bee stings, you might be prescribed an epi-pen so that you or a bystander can inject a treatment to stop dangerous symptoms and enable you to breathe normally again.
Help Yourself With Over-The-Counter Allergy Treatments
There are plenty of effective name-brand medications that can give you great relief from allergy symptoms, but often right next to them in the pharmacy, you’ll see a generic that has exactly the same active ingredients. Using generics is safe and effective and it will save you a great deal of money. Below are four generic allergy medicines that offer relief and will likely save you some money.
- Active ingredient: Fexofenadine Hydrochloride
- 90 tablets of 180 mg
- 24-Hour Allergy Relief
Recognizing Allergies in Your Pets
Pets develop allergies just like people. Their symptoms vary depending on the pet and the allergy. Pets with allergies may bite, scratch, or lick their skin or lick and chew their paws. Cats might groom themselves a lot, even to the point of stripping all the fur from their undersides. Hair loss, red and irritated skin, and breathing problems are all possible signs of allergies.
Food allergies are frequently an issue for pets, especially when their food has a lot of preservatives and additives. Some pets are allergic to particular sources of protein, such as beef, chicken, fish, or dairy products. Your vet might recommend you switch dog food brands or protein sources. Allergic dogs sometimes tolerate lamb and rice dog food better than other flavors.
Environmental allergies can include pollen, mold, dust mites, and more. Do your animal’s allergies get worse when you do things like dusting, sweeping, or changing sheets, which all stir up allergens? Then environmental allergies might be to blame. You might have to look into immunotherapy, changes in the animal’s environment, or medications.
Pets can have an allergic reaction to flea bites that leads to red, itchy skin. If the animal scratches and bites itself too vigorously, it can develop open wounds that are subject to infection. Not to mention the fact that fleas are disease-bearing parasites that can make both your animal and your family members sick. Prevent flea infections by giving your animal flea medication every month. In case of an active infestation, wash your animal in flea shampoo, launder all bedding in hot water, and if necessary contact an exterminator to remove any fleas left in your house, particularly if they are bothering family members.
Are Human Allergy Medicines Safe for Pets?
Yes, some pets can take some human allergy medications – but here’s the catch. Some medications a dog can take are toxic to a cat, and vice-versa. The dosage also has to be calculated correctly for the breed and weight of your pet. If your animal is already taking medications for other conditions, it’s important to know how allergy medication might interact with it. This means it’s quite important for you to consult a vet, not just the internet before you start sharing your allergy pills with your pet. But if you find the right mixture of treatments for you and your pet, you should both be able to enjoy New York all year round, indoors and outdoors.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Francois Roux/Shutterstock.com
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