July 20, 2019 | 83° F

Doctors advise individuals how to protect against severe incoming allergy season

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Photo Illustration | Doctors from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the University of Medicine and Dentristry of New Jersey suggest options for individuals who will most likely bear the brunt of this spring’s expected allergy season, which is anticipated to be more severe in terms of pollen compared to previous years.

Rutgers welcomes spring, when the weather starts hitting above 50. But for some people, spring might not be a friendly season, since the warmer weather means an explosion of sneezes and coughs.

For Saheli Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, spring means runny noses, sneezing and sore throats.

“You try to study and you try to focus on work, but you have to stop every five seconds to blow your nose," Patel said. "It’s a distraction, and it’s irritating."

About 35 million Americans are affected by seasonal allergies each year, according to an article on Tech Times. 

The cause of spring allergies is mainly tree pollen and grass pollen, said Dr. Catherine Monteleone, an allergist-immunologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Hospital.

“It’s not flowers because those are insect pollinated,” she said, “(Spring allergies are) caused by plants such as trees and grass that are wind pollinated.”

The symptoms can vary from person to person, Monteleone said. While some people like Patel face relatively typical symptoms of spring allergies, other people can experience shortness of breath and wheezing because those people treat pollen inhaled into the respiratory system as a foreign object, triggering allergic symptoms. 

“When the pollen comes in, it binds to Immunoglobulin E (IgE), a type of antibody that binds to cells that contain histamines,” Monteleone said. “It makes the cells release histamine and other chemicals that causes allergies.”

Genetic factors also plays a role, which explains the different symptoms and severity from person to person, Monteleone said.

“If your parents are allergic, you are more likely to be allergic," she said. "But we don't totally why it gets turned on and why people have allergies, even for an adult who never had it before."

A child who has one parent with allergy has 30 percent chance of developing an immune response to allergens, said Leonard Bielory, former director of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Asthma and Allergy Research Center. If both parents have allergies, the chance of their child also having allergies increases to 60 to 80 percent.

But it is important to note the symptoms, severity and substances the child is allergic to does not have to match those of their parents, Bielory said.

“An important thing to understand is that you don't necessarily transmit specific allergen sensitivity," he said. "You transmit the genetic predisposition to develop the allergy.”

With a genetic disposition to develop allergies, exposure to pollen and the amount of pollen also play important parts, Bielory said.

“From the national database of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we can see that over the past 25 years the number of people who have been sensitized to allergens doubled,” Bielory said.

This increase is in part caused by climate change, he said. In one of Bielory’s project for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he tracked pollen changes in the continental United States and evaluated its impact over a distribution of time, which provided prediction models for the future.

Based upon data, Bielory observed an increase in the production of pollen along coastal areas.

“We are having more intense release of more pollen," he said. "Not only will it last longer, but also there will be more pollen produced in that period of time. ”

Because of the strong winter for this year, allergies this spring are expected to be more potent, Bielory said.

“The pollinating season has been held back earlier," he said. "Now we have trees that overlap their pollinating time together with grass."

Monteleone also explained the impact of climate change on the production of pollen.

“Climate change increases the CO2 in the air and increased plant growth in general,” she said. “By increasing the plant growth, you increase the production of pollen and lengthen the growing season.”

Monteleone suggests several preventive measures people can take to help with the situation, such as using air conditioners to filter out the pollen and wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from pollen floating in the air, as well as utilizing over-the-counter medicines such as nasal sprays and anti-histamines. 

If allergy symptoms worsen, she recommended paying a visit to the doctor's office.

“There is always something that can be given that might help," she said. "There’s no reason just to suffer without trying,” she said.

Weini Zhang

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