Stravinsky had other things in mind when he wrote, “The Rites of Spring”.  For many, however, the rites of spring (and summer and fall) includes sneezing, nasal congestion and eye itching.  These symptoms, often called “hay fever”, are seasonal allergies due to the reproductive cycle of plants and mold which results in the dissemination of pollens and spores in the atmosphere.  Allergies are in a sense an over-reaction of the body to foreign substances which are perceived as being potentially harmful.  This form of response actually is an important defense mechanism in parts of the world where parasitic infestation is a problem.  In effect, the body reacts to pollen and molds as if they were parasites, with good intention but harmful results!

Allergies vary from being a mild nuisance to disabling, with extreme itching of the nose and/or eyes, roof of the mouth, throat and ears.  They often can involve great fatigue due either to the hay fever itself or medications used to combat it.  They can be associated with other respiratory illnesses, giving rise to sinus or recurrent ear infection and also may be associated with asthma.

If symptoms are mild, they may be tolerable even without treatment, or may be reduced satisfactorily by the occasional use of antihistamines, many of which are sold over-the-counter.  Antihistamines make many people sleepy, and may not be tolerated or may be ineffective.  They are best used a preventatives — that is, antihistamines are most effective if used in anticipation of symptoms rather than after symptoms have begun.  In recent years, various other medications including the newer none sedating antihistamines, nasal sprays that contain weak anti-inflammatory agents, and drugs which block the release of histamine a nd similar chemicals which actually are responsible for allergy symptoms, have become available.  These can be used safely under medical supervision for prolonged periods of time with virtually no side-effects.

If symptoms are severe, the cause of the allergies should be determined with the aim of eliminating sources of allergens where possible, and, if necessary, immunizing against the non avoidable allergens to decrease sensitivity to inadvertent exposure to them.  Any evaluation should involve a thorough history and appropriate physical examination, and allergy tests (usually “skin tests”) for detecting allergic antibody.  Although other kinds of allergy blood tests (sometimes called RAST tests) are available and have been highly publicized in recent years, unfortunately they still are less sensitive and less revealing
than skin tests.  Because of this and the fact that they are less cost-effective, skin testing is preferred to the blood tests by the vast majority of knowledgeable allergists certified as experts in this field by The American Board of Allergy and Immunology.  Allergy tests and allergy immunization procedures are under constant research and refinement.

Here are simple procedures for hay fever sufferers to do for themselves:  Keep the windows in the bedroom closed overnight where feasible to cut down overnight pollen and mold exposure, keep any clothes used for gardening or playing outside during the day out of the bedroom at night, and shower at night, thereby minimizing pollen and mold exposure in the bedroom.  (The average person spends a third of his or her life in the bedroom!)  Air conditioning is a useful device to filter pollens and molds and decreases exposure to these allergens.  It is wise to remember that exposure to allergens and irritants ordinarily tolerated the rest of the year, but present indoors, may greatly intensify symptoms from exposure to the seasonal pollen and mold allergens, and avoidance of these substances during the hay fever season is helpful in diminishing symptoms.  This is particularly true of animals which not only can induce symptoms themselves, but carry pollens and molds indoors as well.  Consequently, it is especially important to keep animals out of the bedroom in particular, and out of the house as much as possible.

Finally, the impact of allergies on function at school and at work, and on general well-being including fatigue and irritability should not be underestimated.  Help is available, and there is no reason to suffer!