For Your Health: The Season for Sneezing

Morgan Smith

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An allergy is the reaction your immune system has when it freaks out and overreacts to substances that under normal circumstances aren’t harmful. Your antibodies are responsible for the mess of tears and tissue; they identify and label allergens as a pathogen, grouping it with others like bacteria and viruses. The sneezing, itching, watery eyes, postnasal drip, and runny, stuffy noses  are a result of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. This is a common affliction for as many as 20 percent of Americans every year. Even my dog has allergies– it took me a while to realize it though as I couldn’t understand why she was sneezing and rubbing her nose into the carpet.

Pollen, animal dander, dust mites, and mold are the most popular offenders floating in the air this season (I almost never wanted to go outside again after reading this). Once you catch whiff of an allergen, a counter from your immune system follows suit. A runny or stuffy nose is attributed to the fact that as a first line of defense, your body will begin to produce more mucus to try to trap the allergen and prevent it  from entering the body any further. Sneezing and tearing up are a means to expel it.

Although there is no cure, we can hope research will prevail in the future. For now, we can only identify and treat allergies symptomatically. If you frequently catch a cold this time of the year, go to your doctor with a list of symptoms, a family history including known allergies or asthma, and any medication you take, prescription and over-the counter. Two common ways of evaluating for allergens is by a skin test or blood test. With skin testing, an area of skin–for me, it was my back– is exposed to small amounts of various proteins found in allergens. The lack of hives means that you test negative for that substance. Blood testing involves a measuring the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in a sample of blood.

Treatment ranges from over-the-counter to prescription medication.When taking over-the-counter drugs, it always important to contact your doctor if you don’t notice a change or your condition worsens.

Antihistamines are great for stopping histamines, a substance produced by the body during an immune response. This medication comes as eye drops, nose sprays, liquids, and pills. They work more effectively before you have an allergic reaction i.e. in the morning. Decongestants can alleviate a stuffy nose by relaxing swollen tissue. Some brands offer a decongestant and antihistamine in one pill like Claritin-D and Allegra-D. It is important to choose which brand of medication to buy because of its side effect of drowsiness. If you notice that your allergies spike in the morning, take a non-drowsy medication like Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra. You won’t have to be as picky if you feel they spike later in the evening.

As that one kid who sneezes about five times during class, I can attest to the fact that allergies, although fortunately not painful for most, can be a big nuisance especially this time of year. But just because there isn’t a cure doesn’t mean you have to suffer. The right medication can turn coping into treating.