Symptoms of allergies occur when a sensitive person is exposed to a normally harmless substance. A susceptible person may develop hay fever, asthma, hives, giant swelling, eczema, intestinal symptoms, or allergic shock. Upon exposure, symptoms occur due to the release of histamine and other allergic chemicals from specialized immune system cells at the site of exposure to an allergen (eyes, nose, throat, skin, lungs, etc.).
Substances capable of causing allergic symptoms are called "allergens." Although the tendency to develop symptoms is inherited, allergic symptoms may develop at any age, depending on the frequency and quantity of exposure. Many people develop allergic problems after living in central Texas for a period of time. The mild climate and high humidity in Austin cause high levels of pollens and molds throughout much of the year. Cedar pollen from December through February may be especially severe.
There are a tremendous variety of allergens that may cause symptoms in a sensitive person. Allergens can be divided into three basic groups:
- INHALANTS (pollens, house dust, animal dander, mold)
- INGESTANTS (foods, beverages, drugs)
- INJECTED SUBSTANCES (drugs, vaccines, insect venoms)
Note: Other factors may trigger or worsen allergic symptoms, including infections, changes in weather, emotional factors, or exposure to irritants (tobacco smoke, pollutants, etc.).
There are three fundamental ways of treating allergic individuals:
- AVOIDANCE: If allergens can be avoided, symptoms will not occur. Unfortunately, most allergens are impossible to completely avoid. Avoidance measures are most practical for indoor allergens such as pets and house dust mites and for food and drug allergy.
- MEDICATION: Many medications are available for controlling allergic symptoms. Prescription nasal sprays, lung inhalers, and oral medications may temporarily relieve symptoms. Unfortunately, multiple medications may be required, side effects may occur and medicines do not affect the underlying allergic sensitivity. Symptoms may recur when medications are stopped.
- ALLERGY SHOTS (Immunotherapy) The injection of increasingly stronger concentrations of specific allergens can lead to gradual reduction in allergic symptoms. After several months, most people taking shots feel better and need less medication. A 3 to 5 year course of shots often results in reduced symptoms for years. Shots can almost eliminate the possibility of life threatening alergic reactions to bee or fire ant stings. Unfortunatly allergy shots are not effective for food or drug allergic reactions.
Allergy Capital of the World!
Many places in the United States claim the title of "allergy capital" because people in the area suffer significant symptoms. Austin is usually rated in the top 5 worst places for allergies. Different geographic regions have different predominant pollens and seasons. For instance, in the Midwest, Fall "hayfever" (caused by ragweed pollen) may be especially severe in August and September until the first freeze. In fact, most of the US has Fall (weeds) and Spring (trees and grass) pollen seasons.
Austin is unique in having 3 distinct pollen seasons. In the Fall, ragweed and other weeds release pollen from mid August to early November. This season is much longer than in other parts of the country. In the Spring, Oak and other trees like Ash, Elm and Pecan pollinate from February to early June. Grasses pollinate from March through September. The hot, dry, summer weather often kills off much of the grass, so some years there is very little pollen in July and early August.
In the Winter, Mountain Cedar pollen season extends from December to February, and is unique to Central Texas. Cedar pollen counts in Central Texas are the highest pollen counts of any plant anywhere in the world. Cedar allergy, referred to as "cedar fever," can be intense and debilitating. On days of very high pollen counts many cedar allergic people can't go outdoors without experiencing severe symptoms. Some people must miss work or school, and can't get good control of their symptoms despite taking lots of medication.
We at the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin invite you to call (512-345-7635) and arrange a visit. Whatever your allergy or asthma problem, we can help.