Is it a cold, the flu, or just seasonal allergies?


May 5, 2024


As family caregivers, it’s important to recognize that seasonal allergies are often mistaken for common colds or the flu. When your loved ones start sneezing, sniffling, and feeling under the weather, it’s easy to assume it’s just a passing illness. However, for many, these symptoms may indicate the onset of seasonal allergies.

You may already be aware if you’re among the approximately 60 million Americans affected by seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever.

Every spring, summer, and fall—and even in winter in certain regions—plants release tiny pollen grains to fertilize others of the same species. The pollen triggering allergic reactions primarily comes from trees, grasses, and weeds.

Allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to environmental factors that typically cause no issues in others, hence the label “allergies.”

While allergies often emerge in childhood or young adulthood, they can develop at any age and may have a genetic component. However, what precisely triggers them at a specific age or life stage remains unclear.

Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers

Allergy season varies depending on the allergens prevalent in the air and can range from mild to severe symptoms like sinus infections.

Spring Allergies: Spring allergy season can begin as early as January in some areas and last through early summer, with tree pollen being the primary culprit.

Summer Allergies: Late spring and early summer are dominated by grass pollen, with windy and warm days leading to increased pollen counts.

Fall Allergies: Late summer and early fall mark weed pollen season, particularly ragweed, which affects about 75% of individuals allergic to spring plants. Additionally, mold and dust mites can trigger fall allergies, thriving in the moist environment provided by rotting leaves.

Winter Allergies: While outdoor allergens lie dormant during winter, spending more time indoors can increase exposure to indoor allergens like dust mites, mold, and pet dander.

Managing Allergies

  1. Identify Triggers Early: Consult allergists for routine testing to identify allergens triggering your symptoms and develop a management plan.

  2. Limit Exposure: Keep windows and doors shut during allergy season to minimize exposure to irritants. Delegate outdoor chores or wear allergy masks when unavoidable.

  3. Control Indoor Environment: Use air conditioning with HEPA filters to maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels, reducing dust mites and mold growth.

  4. Maintain Personal Hygiene: Shower, wash hair, and change clothes after outdoor activities to remove allergens. Replace carpets with hardwood floors and use washable rugs. Keep pets out of bedrooms and bathe them regularly.

  5. Treat Symptoms: Over-the-counter or prescription medications can alleviate symptoms, and severe allergies may require specialist intervention.

Taking proactive steps can significantly alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms, making the allergy season more manageable for sufferers.

Source: CDC: Allergens and Pollen & Mayo Clinic: Allergy-proof your home

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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