Summertime Allergies


Summertime Allergies
Healthy Living - July 15, 2014
Amy Movius, MD

Sneezing. Itchy, watery eyes. Runny nose. Dark under-eye circles. Anyone with allergies is familiar with these symptoms. Allergies often flare in springtime with all the spectacular blossoming and blooming –and pollen production – going on. Allergies don’t take a summer holiday however, and pollen remains the main culprit. The source of the pollen does change though: in spring it’s trees, in summer it’s the more mundane grasses and weeds. Ragweed, a top allergy offender, swings into full gear in August. You don’t have to see it to feel it either, since ragweed pollen can travel hundreds of miles on the wind.

Pollen isn’t the only summer allergen. Summer air pollution – think ozone – can worsen allergy symptoms. Higher temperatures and less wind (=summer) increases ozone. Also, there are allergies to beware of an entirely different kind – the kind that stings and bites and seem to be everywhere in summer. Bees and wasps and other stinging/biting insects commonly cause pain and swelling locally. Some people will be terribly, dangerously allergic to them however, even if they’ve never been bit before. Anyone who gets a rash or swelling all over, even the first time after a bite, should be very concerned. These types of allergic reactions frequently get worse each time they occur and can be life threatening.

Staying inside all summer wouldn’t be much fun – nor would it protect you from all allergies. Mold loves damp and humid places, a description that applies to probably every bathroom and basement in Maine during the summer. Also, dust mites – a relentless year-round allergen – peaks in the warm and humid summer months. They don’t bite but rather eat dead skin cells (gross, I know) and so hang out where people do; in beds, pillows, upholstery, and carpet.
Management of summertime allergies includes avoiding and limiting exposure to allergens, removing allergens as much as possible, using over-the-counter medications, and seeking medical advice and sometimes specialized care and treatment when allergies are more extreme.

For outdoor allergies, checking pollen counts is a good start. They tend to be higher on warmer, drier and windier days, and peak midday to afternoon. Exercising inside and keeping windows closed can be helpful on high pollen days. Likewise, a good rain can temporarily clear pollen away. If you know you will be exposed to an allergen, taking an over-the-counter antihistamine can prevent symptoms more easily before they start. If pollen sensitive, wearing a hat and sunglasses outdoors will keep some pollen out of the face and eyes. Wear gloves when doing activities such as gardening and avoid touching face. Washing hands when coming indoors and rinsing eyes with cool water is helpful as well. Showering and washing hair at night and changing clothes before getting into bed will also remove any leftover pollen clinging to you from the day.

As for stinging insect exposure, avoid going barefoot in areas they inhabit. They are attracted to bright colors and sweet smells so avoid like clothing and scents in these areas as well. Also, don’t drink from open cans outside (they like to fly in for a sip) and keep food covered. Those with severe allergies should always carry an epi-pen with them as prescribed.

For indoor mold, keep prone areas as clean and dry as possible, and use dehumidifiers if available. Dust mites are everywhere and just the right size to be inhaled. Vacuuming and just walking on carpet will send them floating into the air. An estimated 90 percent of people with allergic asthma are dust mite sensitive. Covering mattresses, pillows (polyester ones best), and box springs with airtight dust mite covers is an excellent idea since we spend about a third of our life sleeping. Weekly washing of all bedding in very hot water and drying on high heat is recommended to kill dust mites. For other indoor areas, floors should be damp cleaned or vacuumed with HEPA filter at least weekly. Laundering throw rugs, opting for blinds over drapes, and avoiding dust mite loving collectors such as stuffed animals can also help keep the population down.

1. Summer Allergies.
2. Top 5 Summer Allergens – ABC News., May 29, 2012
3. Don’t Let Allergies, Asthma Spoil a Summer Soiree and Keep Your Green Thumb.
4. Dust (Dust Mite) Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments.