Spring is finally rolling around the corner, and for most of us, that's a big relief. For many others, however, this revival of life also means the return of sneezing, coughing, wheezing, itching and other vexing symptoms of spring allergies, commonly known as hay fever. To help you better prepare for the allergy season and better enjoy a tear-free spring, here are five things you might not have known about spring allergies.
1. Flowers are beautiful, abundant and probably not the cause of your allergies.
Most springtime allergies are caused by tree pollen, not flowers. The most allergenic trees -- such as oak, birch, and maple -- have small, or in the case of pine trees, no flowers. Trees that expend energy making beautiful flowers, rather than lots of pollen, know they will attract insects like bees to help them move the allergy-causing pollen from tree to tree.
Conversely, the allergenic trees need to produce a lot more pollen to better the chance that wind will blow their pollen to the next tree, to aid their process of reproduction. You can tell when a tree is pollinating by looking for catkins hanging off the branches.
2. You can develop spring allergies at any age, even if you didn't have them as a child.
If your mild, cold-like symptoms continue unabated and are unaccompanied by a fever, it might not be a cold at all. Although many people first develop allergies during pre-adolescence, it is nevertheless quite common for people to develop their first spring time allergies post high school or even into their 30s and 40s. Sometimes a change in environment can cause allergies if you have recently moved from the city to the country or vice a versa.
3. Spring allergies actually start in the winter.
Although we commonly think of plants restarting their life cycle and pollinating around springtime -- and bringing with them the much dreaded allergy symptoms -- this process can actually start much earlier. This is because the trigger for plants to start pollinating is not only warming temperatures, but also the increasing length of sunlight during the day. Even as parts of the country still reel from below normal temperatures, the spring allergy season is already well under way. At the end of February, for example, cedar and juniper pollen will have already appeared in the Northeast, while the Mid-Atlantic will begin to see alder and elm pollen. In Texas, highly allergenic trees such as oak and ash have already begun to pollinate by end of February, as have the poplar cottonwoods of California.
4. If you're allergic to one tree, you're not necessarily allergic to them all.
While there is always some cross-reactivity between tree pollens, being allergic to one does not mean you're allergic to them all. Trees pollinate in a more or less predictable pattern and knowing which ones you're not sensitive to can help decrease the amount of medication you use. The best way to find out which pollens triggers your allergies is to see an allergist and get tested.
5. Eating local honey does not cure allergies.
While honey is healthy, delicious and supports local farmers, it is a misnomer that eating local honey will prevent allergies to local pollens. Bees eat the pollen -- which contain the same amount of nutrients as a bean -- so not much pollen actually gets into the honey. The concentration of pollen spores present in the honey is low and nowhere near the amount that allergists will give the patient during immunotherapy or allergy shots. Immunotherapy allergy treatment will gradually "vaccinate" the body against allergens by introducing small and regulated amounts of the offensive pollen allergen. This procedure is effective to build up the bodies tolerance an immunity to pollen, unlike the consumption of honey.
Blooming plants does not need to mean blooming allergies. The more you know about your spring allergies, the better you can guard against it's irritating symptoms. See your allergist to learn more about how to have a beautiful spring that is free of sneezing, itching, and wheezing.
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