Does your child sneeze when he pets a cat? Does she come home with puffy eyes and a slight wheeze every time she returns from her friend’s house? Your child might suffer from allergy induced asthma.
Allergies are a very common trigger for asthma, causing a child to progress from allergy symptoms such as a runny nose, puffy eyes and sneezing, to restricted breathing or even an asthma attack.
Familiarizing yourself with the most common allergies – such as dust, mold, pets, and pollen – and keeping a journal or mental note of when and where your child’s asthma flares up, can help you determine which allergies your child might have. Keep in mind, sometimes a child’s allergic reaction will be strongest immediately upon leaving the environment to which he or she is allergic.
Finding it difficult to figure out what things your child might be allergic to? Allergy testing by a board-certified allergist can immediately identify pertinent allergic triggers.
Once you’ve figured out which allergies your child has, discuss how you can work together to avoid environments that cause allergic reactions.
If she’s allergic to dogs but loves playing at a friend’s house who has a dog, suggest they play outdoors instead of indoors.
If you find he has a mold allergy, teach him to identify mold and avoid the places that have it.
If dust is a problem, buy hypo-allergenic products to make her bedroom(where she spends at least one-third of the day) a healthier place for her.
Avoiding exposure to allergens not only prevents an immediate reaction, it can make a significant difference in your child’s health over the long term as well.
Even a few seconds of second-hand smoke can be enough to irritate the airways of a child with asthma. Exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy has been linked to the development of allergies in children.
If you or your child are exposed to cigarette smoke on a regular basis, consider making changes.
Does a short game of tag leave your child coughing or wheezing? They might be suffering from exercise-induced asthma. The majority of those with asthma experience symptoms during exercise.
If you notice your child suffering from asthma after running around the yard or during gym class, discuss with your doctor what you can do to lessen the symptoms when your child is active.
Poor Air Quality
For those who do not suffer from asthma, perhaps the least obvious trigger is the air we breathe: in our homes, at our parks, and in our schools.
According to the American Lung Association, over half of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Over time, polluted air irritates the lungs and reduces lung function, making a child with asthma even more prone to attacks.
Though it’s often not possible to move to an area with better air quality, there are things you can do to significantly improve air quality for your child. Install a HEPA air purifier in the bedroom and have an indoor air quality check in your home, also check the local air quality index (AQI) before deciding which days are better suited for outdoor activities and which days might be better spent at home.
If you’re concerned about your child’s asthma, contact us to get started on a prevention plan.
With pumpkins everywhere and stores filled with Spiderman costumes, it’s almost time for what may be kids’ favorite holiday — Halloween.
Their excitement, however, is tempered by parents’ caution about their children’s safety. For parents of a child with allergies, the concerns are even greater.
The good news is that there is a lot you can to do ensure your kids have a safe, fun Halloween. Here are four tips that can help:
Help Make Your Child’s School Party Safe
Many schools and daycare facilities host Halloween parties, which can be especially stressful for parents since you’re not there to protect your children. In addition, younger children don’t have the awareness to say no to certain types of candy or give in to the temptation to have the same foods their friends are enjoying.
The keys to a stress- and allergy-free class party includes partnering with the teacher, class parent or other school staff member. If you’re unable to volunteer to help or be present on party day, find out who the party host will be and coordinate with him or her in advance about your child’s allergy and any action plan that may be needed to respond to an allergy emergency.
If you can be involved in the party planning, you can encourage a focus on non-food related activities, such as crafts, little toy bags, a scavenger hunt, or Halloween games.
Food will likely be part of the festivities however, so discuss options that would be safe for your child and that can still be enjoyed by everyone. A great way to ensure your child isn’t being left out is to offer to provide his or her treats or find out if there is an allergy-free version of the treat your child will be able to have.
If you are sending your child with their own safe food, ensure the teacher or monitor knows this is the only food that you child can eat at the party.
Know Ahead of Time What Candies are Safe for Your Child
Deciding to allow your child to trick-or-treat should depend on how severe his or her allergies are. If you decide it’s safe enough to go door to door, always have a safety plan in place and have precautions ready.
Let your child know before you even leave the house that he or she is not to eat any food until you’ve gotten home and had the chance to check all their candy. Setting the expectation before you head out is crucial for kids of all ages. Older children probably already have a good understanding of why this is necessary, but with a simple and appropriate explanation of the dangers, younger kids can be made to understand why they’ll need to contain their excitement about sampling treats while they’re out.
Before Halloween arrives, consider alerting your neighbors to your child’s allergy. Ask them to not offer any foods to which your child is allergic and suggest they offer a toy, a little money or other non-food item. (You could even provide your neighbors with such items yourself.) Asking in advance allows your neighbors to be prepared.
Once trick or treating is done, sort through the treats and find the safe ones and put them back into your child’s bag – then create a pile of definite no’s. You may have a third pile of “unsure” treats. You may need to do some research to determine if they are safe for your child, or if you feel it’s not worth the risk, simply remove them. Often, mini-bagged treats will have warnings on whether they were produced in facility that processes nuts or other allergens.
Do not leave your child alone with his or her candy. Temptations can be too strong, and you may find your child digging in at the first opportunity.
We’ve found that certain normally safe candies may be produced in different plants for the holiday version of the candy, and this may make them unsafe. This is why it’s so important to read labels on all potentially dangerous candies.
If throwing out a lot of candy seems wasteful to you, one fun tradition we’ve heard of is to place all the unsafe candy in your young child’s trick-or-treat bag and place it on the porch overnight. They will get a visit from the “Great Pumpkin” who will exchange their unsafe candy for something they can enjoy.
If your child suffers from severe allergies and trick-or-treating is just too dangerous, planning a fun party with some of their friends and having Halloween shows and crafts is a great option. Although candy is most associated with the holiday, it doesn’t have to be the most important thing. Kids will have just as much fun dressed up and playing as they do knocking on doors.
Always Have Your Safety Supplies on Hand
You already know this, but we’ll say it again: You must always have your safety supplies ready whether your child is walking your neighborhood, at a school party, or at a friend’s house. If your child is prone to an anaphylactic shock always have an epinephrine autoinjector and other medications that your allergist has provided. If your child’s allergies are less severe, have sanitizing wipes available for contact allergies and any medications you give for minor allergic reactions.
You should also discuss with your child what to do if he or she starts feeling itchy, having trouble breathing or showing any signs of a reaction. Talk with your child in advance about what happens when an allergic reaction occurs and what treatment measures you may have to take. The more they are involved in their treatment, the more in control they will feel.
Candy Is Not the Only Issue – Don’t Forget Costumes
If your child has contact allergies or suffers from hives or other skin issues, be aware of costumes and face and skin paint accessories that could lead to reactions. Most kids costumes are safe and hypo-allergenic, but some of the accessories may set off a reaction. Look out for nickel in some costume accessories such as cowboy belts, swords, tiaras and magic wands. Nickel is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, which can make skin itch and ruin an otherwise fun night of trick-or-treating.
Be on the lookout for ingredients in cheap Halloween makeup, which may cause allergic reactions. If your child must use makeup, opt for the higher-quality products. Don’t assume, however, that because it’s more expensive it’s safe – always test makeup ahead of time by applying a little bit to a small area of skin a few days in advance to check for a reaction.
Launched in 2014 the Teal Pumpkin Project aims to increase awareness of food allergies as well as promote inclusion for all of our trick-or-treaters. There are some great resources to show your support and even to add your house to a crowd sourced map of a list of homes that are participating—most Teal Pumpkin participants are offering treats other than candies.
Do some pre-Halloween planning and keep a few tricks handy, and you and your goblins can be sure to have a safe and awesome Halloween!
Most people in Florida look forward to autumn with its pumpkin spice lattes, mild sun and cooler air. But if you’re one of the estimated 40 million fall allergy sufferers in the U.S., this time of year can be very unpleasant.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though…
With the proper precautions and correct allergy treatments, you can enjoy all that autumn has to offer.
While most people often associate allergies with spring and the pollen produced by flowering plants, fall can be the worst season to deal with allergies. As the weather here in Jacksonville cools, plants tend to release more pollen and the moist, cool air leads to increased mold growth on leaves and other surfaces.
Combined, these factors can trigger severe allergic reactions.
What are fall allergy symptoms?
Fall allergy symptoms are not much different than what you would expect at other times of year. Most people refer to their symptoms as hay fever, while doctors refer to it as seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Whatever you call it, symptoms include:
Itchy, watery, and stinging eyes.
Coughing and wheezing, potentially leading to asthma for sufferers.
Scratchy throats and excessive saliva
Life-threatening asthma attacks in extreme cases.
What are the most common Florida fall allergens?
Here in Florida, most fall allergies are caused by either weed pollen or mold spores. Because our weather provides for longer growing seasons, grass and mold pollen allergies tend to extend well into November.
Here are the most common culprits we have to contend with:
This is probably the number-one cause of fall allergies. Ragweed thrives all over the Central and Eastern United States, from far north to deep south. If you have hay fever symptoms in the fall, it’s almost certainly due to ragweed.
Though ragweed starts to release it’s pollen with cool evenings and warm, humid days in August, it can continue well last into September through October.
Approximately 75% of people who are have spring plant allergies are also allergic to ragweed.
Additionally, ragweed pollen gets around. The amazing thing is that even if ragweed pollen isn’t common where you live, wind blown ragweed allergens can travel for hundreds of miles!
It can grow as tall as five feet, with leaves that are arranged alternately and leaf blades that are long and have deep divisions in them. The flowers are not “showy” and result in small, green or yellow spikes.
Fittingly named, giant ragweed can grow up to 15 feet high, with stems that have multiple branches and hairy leaves that grow opposite of each other (until you get high up the weed). The leaves are sandpaper-rough and rounded.
Both types of ragweed release their pollen in late summer and continue to saturate the air through the first frost (which doesn’t happen often here in North Florida).
One ragweed plant is capable of producing more than one billion grains of pollen per season.
Treatment and Defense against Ragweed Allergies
The best defense is a good offense.
With proper weed control, you can get rid of the ragweed around your home. Remove any ragweed plants you find around your property and have your yard treated to kill weeds and control the pollen release near your home.
Also do not wait to contact your allergy specialist to plan your allergy treatments. Allergy immunotherapy treatment involves administering small doses of an allergen to get your body used to it and induce long-term tolerance of the allergen.
Mold is found wherever the weather is damp and cool. While we don’t have long-term cool weather, we do have a good amount of humidity, and the cooler fall air (which can dip into the 40s during the evening) can lead to an increase in mold growth for North Floridians. Molds grow especially well in decaying plant matter, such as leaves and grass clippings, as well as compost piles and rotting, wet wood.
The first defense is to clear leaves and piles of plants that could invite mold growth, and fix or remove rotting wood. Don’t forget to look around your house (including inside) where dampness occurs and where mold growth may hide.
The damper the conditions, the more mold there will be. Unfortunately, forecasts for the coming fall appear to favor mold conditions as temperatures will continue to be warm and wetter through October, according to Accuweather’s fall forecast: “the Southeast will experience largely beneficial wet weather early” and our region will be humid also.
Mold spores spread through the air similar to the way pollen allergens do, but there are two major differences: Mold spreads easily indoors and does not die off with a cold snap — it will just go dormant until temperatures are warm enough to bring it out of it’s dormancy.
This means mold can reappear here in Jacksonville with the first early signs of spring in late February.
Treatment and Defense against Mold and Spore Allergies
This is another case where taking precautions can really help limit your and your family’s exposure to mold.
First and foremost, clean up all dead and decaying plant material from around your house, rake up those leaves, get rid of rotting wood, clear your gutters of debris, and clean up compost and garden beds.
Inside your house, consider investing in a good dehumidifier. Do your best to keep humidity levels low—below 50 percent is ideal within your house. In your garage and attic, make sure boxes aren’t damp and ensure insulation hasn’t gotten wet from the heavy rains we’ve been experiencing. Attics and garages can be a major incubator where mold can grow.
If allergy symptoms hit, make sure to visit your allergist. Mold is a potent asthma trigger and you’ll want to have your inhalers ready and have your allergy and asthma management plan in place. If you’ve only recently developed allergies, your allergy specialist can test for your specific allergies to pollens and molds, which will help determine if you should start allergy shots. Immunotherapy is a proven method for controlling fall allergies.
Other Seasonally Related Triggers
While people think of “seasonal allergies” as referring to grass, pollen and mold allergies, there can also be other allergy triggers that are closely tied to specific seasons. Among other fall allergy triggers:
Smoke (from fall campfires)—Fall weather in Jacksonville makes for ideal s’mores roasting time and a small bonfire makes the early evenings a bit more cozy—but if the smoke from campfires results in an asthma attack, then it’s no fun at all. Since smoke is a common asthma trigger, always sit upwind of the smoke and keep your distance from the fire to prevent an asthma flare-up.
Insect bites and stings—for insect allergy sufferers, certain bugs around your yard can be more than just a nuisance. An estimated two million Americans are allergic to insect stings, which can cause the life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Anyone with an insect allergy should always carry an allergist prescribed epinephrine. Additional steps you can take to reduce insect stings is always wear shoes in the yard, keep food covered and not drinking from open soft drinks which attract bugs. Another thing you can do is hire a professional pest control company to treat for insects around your yard and home.
Candy ingredients—Halloween is almost upon us and Thanksgiving is right behind, many of these holiday’s most popular foods—especially among children—can lead to dangerous allergic reactions for food allergy sufferers. Make sure to check food ingredients and let others know about yours or your children’s food allergies.
Additional Tips to Manage and Control Your Fall Allergies
When possible, stay inside and keep doors and windows closed when pollen is at it’s highest (usually in the morning or midday)—Like our Facebook Page to get daily pollen counts in our area or visit Pollen.com for your own local area.
Before you turn on the heat in your house for the first time, make sure to clean the heating vents and change filters. Sometimes mold and other allergens get trapped in the vents over our humid summers and will fill the air in your house once the heat kicks on.
Invest in a HEPA filter for your home’s HVAC system. These filters force air through a fine mesh and traps harmful allergens and particles such as pollen, pet dander, mites, and tobacco smoke.
Use a dehumidifier to keep the air inside your home below 50% humidity.
Wear a mask when working outside and in your yard so you don’t breathe in mold spores—this is especially important if you are raking leaves or picking up decaying grass clippings.
With proper care and clean up, and some preventative medications, you can enjoy the great fall weather we have here in Jacksonville. Contact us to schedule an appointment for allergy screenings or to discuss an allergy management plan.
It’s back-to-school time again, and if you’re the parent of a child who suffers with allergies or asthma, it can also be a stressful time.
Food allergies affect approximately one in 13 kids. That means that in the average classroom, there are about two students who are coping with some form of food allergy. Of these students, nearly 40 percent have a history of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis. Parents, teachers, and school officials need to be aware of the potentially life-threatening situations that can arise and be ready to handle them should they strike.
Here, our board-certified allergists offer advice and resources for allergy- and asthma-sensitive kids and back-to-school preparedness.
Request a meeting with the school nurse.
Often, the nurse is the most experienced and best-trained staff member when it comes to medical emergencies. Your school’s nurse is the food allergy “champion” in your school, and the nurse should be your connection for developing a coordinated effort to ensure an all-inclusive approach to managing your child’s food allergy and asthma management in the school setting. This is why one of the first things we recommend parents to do is meet with the nurse and explain all of your child’s allergy or asthma symptoms.
Speak to the school counselor to discuss whether a 504 Plan is appropriate.
Under federal law, a food allergy may be considered a disability. In those instances your child may qualify for educational services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 504 plans outline appropriate accommodations, aids or services that a student with a disability needs to be able to fully participate in a free and appropriate public education environment. A 504 plan allows you to create, in collaboration with your child and the school, a written management plan outlining how the school will your child’s food allergies. It will also allow your child to participate safely and equally alongside their peers in all normal facets of the school day.
Disclaimer: We are not experts on 504 Plans—if you believe your child would qualify for a Section 504 Plan, please discuss this with your child’s counselor or the Special Education/504 Plan liaison at your student’s school.
Share your emergency care plan.
In conjunction with the nurse and teachers, share the emergency care plan you use for your family. Make sure all staff who works with your child is aware of this plan. This emergency care plan outlines the treatments recommended in case your child experiences an allergic reaction, the form is great for including emergency contact numbers and can be signed by your physician, pediatrician, and allergist.
Share pictures of typical reactions your child has.
If your child’s teacher has not cared for kids with severe allergies, it could be helpful to share pictures of what typical allergic reactions look like. If you have pictures of your student’s reactions that would probably be the best option, but even just directing staff to websites with allergic reaction pictures.
Ask your child to describe to his/her teacher what they’re symptoms feel like.
Children explain things in their own special way. They have a way of describing their experiences that are vastly different than the way adults describe things—and their way of describing allergic reactions are no exception. Knowing how a student experiences their reactions will help the adults around them save precious time when needing to recognize a reaction that is happening. Some kids, especially little kids, will place their hands to their mouth or pull and scratch their tongues in response to an allergic reaction. Additionally a children’s voice may change in response to a reaction (they may become hoarse or squeaky), and they could begin slurring their words.
“It feels like there is something stuck in my throat…”
“My tongue feels fat/heavy…”
“My lips hurt…”
“It feels like something/bugs are in my ears…” (to describe itchy ears)
“It feels like my skin is burning…”
“I feel bumps on the back of my tongue/throat…”
Speak with school lunch staff.
Most schools have electronic systems for tracking lunch purchases. Ask that a notification or alert be included on your child’s profile. This notifies lunch personnel of your child’s allergy status and helps ensure he or she isn’t accidentally served foods he or she reacts to. In some instances, if your child has a very severe reaction to certain foods—especially if just being in close proximity to the food can cause a reaction—staff should be able to ensure a safe area in the lunch room or a safe eating area for your child.
Keep an epinephrine injector at school.
For parents in Florida, schools can keep non-student specific epinephrine pens stocked for children who suffer from anaphylactic reactions at school. However, every child with a severe food or insect venom allergy (i.e. to bees, wasps, fire ant, etc…) should have their own prescription for an auto injector that can be kept on hand at school. We recommend EpiPen, Auvi-Q or Adrenaclick (generic). You can also check out our patient education page for info on proper use of EpiPens.
Use safety tattoos for notifying staff.
You probably don’t need these for long-term use, but for the beginning of the school year (or other times when your child will be with new care providers), these safety tattoos can be extremely helpful in making sure people are aware of your child’s allergies.
Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet.
Especially for children at risk for severe allergic reactions, this is a better option than the safety tattoos. They are also helpful for EMTs who might respond in case of a medical emergency. Also, for your fashion-conscious kids, medical bracelets can be made like stylish jewelry.
Create a “safe food box.”
It’s common for classrooms to have snacks that may cause issues for your child. Create a safe food box that can be kept with the teacher to substitute for your child with severe allergic reactions. If safe food boxes are not encouraged, you can also offer up a safe food list for your child’s teacher to ensure that reactionary foods are not in the classroom.
Ask for a list of birthday party dates.
If your child’s classroom celebrates birthdays, it is possible to ask for celebration dates in advance and whether there will be dangerous treats available. Nowadays most treats have allergen-free alternatives that can be substituted for your child to ensure they don’t feel left out.
If you have the flexibility, consider being a “classroom parent.”
This would give you a little more advance notice on events going on in the school and classroom. Also, volunteering in the PTA and on field trips can help you monitor your child (and other children that might have allergies). Additionally, many schools are in dire need of volunteers and assistance—so you’ll be helping your child and your community school.
Ask school administrators to limit or not use your child’s classroom for after school activities.
Sometimes schools have to use rooms for after-school activities or to support outside groups. Ask that your child’s room not be used for these activities. While there is no guarantee the administration can honor your request, it could help to limit allergens brought into your child’s classroom.
Find out your school’s procedures for limiting allergens on buses and transportation vehicles.
Determine if the policies and procedures are appropriate for your child. In some instances, you might be best served by transporting your child to and from school yourself. Most districts have a “no food” policy on their buses unless medically necessary (i.e., a diabetic child with low blood sugar). Some policies might include having an adult on the bus who is trained in administering epinephrine or ensuring special seating arrangements.
Request advance notice of all field trips.
This should be standard procedure for your school and student’s teacher, but don’t just assume they will give you a lot of notice for the field trips. Your child’s allergies needn’t prevent him or her from attending educational and fun field trips. But asking staff to provide you with as much advance notice as possible gives you a chance to prepare and address any allergy concerns.
Ask to speak with the kids in your child’s class.
Unfortunately, bullying occurs for all sorts of things, and kids with allergies aren’t immune to bullies. Ask your child’s teacher and principal if you can address your child’s class to help them understand what allergies are and what happens to your child if he or she has a reaction. This won’t prevent all bullying, but it’s a good way to address issues ahead of time. If speaking to the class isn’t possible, allow the teacher to address the class about your child’s allergies (without giving too much personal information). For younger classes, a great little book to share is Binky Goes Nuts — check with your child’s school or local public library to see if it’s available.
Work with your child on how to self manage his or her allergies.
Older kids need to learn how to manage their allergies and advocate for themselves. When you feel it’s age appropriate, make sure your child knows to carry their medicine at all times and how to self-administer epinephrine if appropriate.
The good news for parents is that schools are becoming more aware of kids with severe food allergies and the actions to take to keep them safe. But it’s still important for you to be your child’s number-one advocate. Follow these tips to make sure you, your child and his or her school are ready for the coming school year!
Each school district may have different policies regarding school nurse staffing and student health policies. For our patients in Northeast Florida, please visit your school district’s website for more information:
Do you experience allergic symptoms in the mouth when eating certain raw foods? If you do, you could be suffering from oral allergy syndrome.
Oral allergy syndrome is actually fairly common for seasonal allergy sufferers. As people with seasonal allergies eat uncooked or raw fruits, vegetables, and some nuts, the immune system in their mouth can mistake certain protein in the raw food as pollens and a local allergic reaction follows.
Learn more about oral allergy syndrome including the causes and how you can treat the symptoms.
What Is Oral Allergy Syndrome?
Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome. This is caused by cross-reacting allergenic proteins found in airborne pollens and raw vegetables, fruits, and tree nuts.
The immune system of individuals with seasonal allergies recognizes similar appearing proteins in raw foods as allergens, which causes a local allergic reaction inside the mouth.
Raw foods tend to cause the most allergic reactions. Often times, the allergy sufferers won’t experience an allergic reaction when the food is heated and cooked. This is because heating changes the molecular structure of the protein and renders it non-allergenic.
What Causes Oral Allergy Syndrome?
Not everyone with a pollen allergy will experience oral allergy syndrome. Common triggers for oral allergy syndrome include:
Grass Pollen – cross reacts with foods including peaches, oranges, melons, tomato, and celery
Birch Pollen – cross reacts to foods including peaches, pear, plum, kiwi, cherry, apple, hazelnut, almond, carrot, and celery
Ragweed Pollen – cross reacts with foods including melons, banana, cucumber, zucchini, and sunflower seeds
What Are Oral Allergy Symptoms?
Oral allergy syndrome symptoms are typically experienced immediately after coming in contact with food. These uncomfortable allergic reactions can include:
Mild swelling of lips, mouth, tongue, and throat
Itchy ears (in some cases)
Most of these symptoms are concentrated in the mouth area and do not spread; however, there have been rare reports of more severe and systemic symptoms. Symptoms typically occur quickly as the fresh fruit or raw vegetable reaches the mouth. After swallowed or removed, the allergic symptoms may subside within minutes to one hour.
How Do You Avoid It?
The best way to avoid oral allergy syndrome symptoms is by avoiding raw foods known to be problematic. Be aware of your pollen allergies and which foods are associated with certain pollen proteins.
An allergist can help diagnose which pollens and foods cause allergic reactions by reviewing your clinical history, conducting skin pricks, and performing oral food tests with raw fruit and vegetables.
By educating yourself about the foods causing the problem, you can avoid the reaction from taking place.
What are Treatment Options for Oral Allergy Syndrome?
Though symptoms may subside in a few minutes or within the hour, don’t ignore allergic symptoms when they occur. Stop eating foods which cause an allergic reaction and take an antihistamine to relieve itchiness.
Consult with an allergist when you or your child experience oral allergy syndrome symptoms. Symptoms may occur in children as young as 3 or 4 or begin later in life for adults. An allergist can conduct tests to pinpoint which foods are causing allergic reactions and whether it’s oral allergy syndrome or another kind of food intolerance.
Compared to the rest of the U.S., midwinter and early spring in Jacksonville is a really beautiful time of year.
Although, our mild temperatures tend to attract folks from more frigid regions, that doesn’t mean our “cool” seasons are completely free of any downsides. In fact, if you’re allergic to tree pollen — one of the most common allergens we have here on the First Coast — you know this all too well. Another downside? Jacksonville was in the Top 30 Worst Cities for Spring Allergies in 2015 (and we’re likely to be up there again this year).
Across most of the country, trees don’t release their pollen until early spring. Our temperate climate here in North Florida allows local trees to produce an abundance of pollen starting in late December!
If you suffer from tree pollen sensitivity, here’s a helpful guide for tree pollen allergies and our best advice for controlling a reaction this spring season.
First: What is Tree Pollen?
That super-fine yellow dust you find on your car in the morning or the layer of yellow dust on outdoor surfaces is tree pollen—pine pollen to be exact.
Pollen carries a plant’s DNA from the stamen to the pistil (generally considered the “female” part of a plant). This process is called pollination and it’s what allows plants to reproduce.
Tree pollen is a well-known, highly allergenic substance. Allergic trees native to Northeast Florida include:
Most people assume that trees with large or fragrant flowers must be the cause most allergy problems, but actually the opposite is true. Trees with showy flowers have larger, “stickier” pollen that quickly falls to the ground. As a result, flowering trees depend on insects (not the wind) to carry their pollen.
Since these pollen aren’t blowing in the wind, you’re less likely to inhale them and develop allergies to them.
What Triggers Make Tree Allergy Reactions Worse?
Sometimes a perfect storm of factors can trigger allergic reactions.
Here are some common triggers that can make already bad tree pollen allergies even worse:
Mild, breezy days with cool evenings. When the wind picks up pollen and disperses it through the air, you don’t need to have trees in your vicinity to suffer. With occasional exceptions, this pretty much sums up the weather in Jacksonville during the second half of December through March.
Thunderstorms. While rainy days bring relief for allergy sufferers, thunderstorms can actually make matters worse for you. Pollen grains can be carried by the winds produced in thunderstorms and easily rupture—leading to increased allergic reaction during storms and a phenomenon called “thunderstorm asthma.” If the forecast calls for thunderstorms, stay indoors as much as possible since the rapidly changing weather preceding storms seems to increase pollen load in the air.
Some types of fruits or vegetables. You read that correctly! People who suffer nasal allergies from specific tree pollens also have a higher risk of reaction to certain raw fruits and vegetables. If, for example, you have a birch pollen allergy and eat raw apple or pear, you may experience a localized allergic reaction with mild swelling and itchiness inside your mouth. This is called the pollen-food allergy syndrome (formerly known as the oral allergy syndrome) and occurs when the immune system in your mouth mistakes certain raw fruit and vegetable proteins for pollens that you are allergic to. One way to fight this is to simply peel your raw fruits or vegetables and cook them (at least the ones that can be cooked) which will lessen or help you completely avoid a reaction.
Proximity to the trigger trees. If you have one of the culprit trees in your yard, you are, of course, more susceptible to allergy symptoms and reactions. But you may be surprised at just how much more susceptible you are: Trigger trees in your yard could expose you to more than 10 times the amount of pollen as a tree down the block.
Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms
A sensitivity to pollen causes your body to produce an abundance of allergic antibodies called IgE. IgE allows your immune system to launch a full scale allergic response when it sees a culprit tree pollen. These reactions result in a flood of histamines in your eyes and respiratory tract and can lead to following allergy symptoms:
Itchy and tearing/watery red eyes. Your eyes may be inflamed, itchy and red. There might also be “crust” (dried eye mucus) along your eyelids, most commonly experienced upon waking in the morning.
Bags under the eyes. You might also notice dark circles and bags under your eyes. These are sometimes called allergic shiners and are due to congested blood vessels associated with nasal inflammation.
Runny nose. People with tree pollen allergies experience nasal congestion and a runny nose at the same time. A runny nose might also result in post-nasal drip. Children can develop a semi-permanent crease along their noses from constantly rubbing the tips of their runny noses upward—a maneuver affectionately termed the allergic salute!
Sneezing and congestion. You may sneeze frequently, have an itchy nose, and feel pressure in your nose and sinuses.
Coughing fits or sore throats. Allergies to tree pollen may also cause you to experience a scratchy, sore throat. The discomfort can be due to inflammation, post-nasal drip or both. Depending on how much you’re coughing, you could also develop laryngitis and hoarseness.
Airborne pollen can also trigger asthma, making breathing difficult and leading to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
While these symptoms may seem mild at first, over time they can cause progressive impairment of quality of life, work and sleep. More severe reactions may occur in people with asthma and other respiratory problems.
In addition to the above symptoms, some of our patients report feeling as if they have the flu for months and just feel physically drained. Pollen allergies are also described like a bad cold that just won’t go away.
Tips for Avoiding or Limiting Tree Allergies
Since we have a good idea of when the tree pollen allergy season will begin each year, it’s easy to start taking precautions early. Some of the precautions are common-sense and, depending on your situation, some may be more realistic than others.
Avoid contact with tree pollen as much as possible. It’s best to avoid coming into physical contact with pollen as much as you can. Limit your time outdoors on high pollen days; keep windows in cars closed at all times during tree pollen season; and consider wearing gloves or a mask if pollen counts are very high and you must be outside.
Remove trigger trees. If possible, remove any trigger trees that are in your yard. If removing the tree is not an option, get it trimmed back as much as allowable to reduce the amount of pollen it produces.
Keep windows and doors shut. On these beautiful days it’s tempting to open up the windows and doors for some fresh air—but high pollen counts and windy days will bring pollen inside to get trapped in carpets and furniture.
Do not dry clothes outdoors. Although it can be a money saver, do not hang laundry outside to dry—they will certainly collect pollen.
Avoid early morning outdoor exercise. Trees tend to pollinate in the early AM. If you must exercise early, try to do so in a gym or some other indoor setting. Outdoor exercise should be left to later in the day when pollen has had a chance to settle.
Shower in the evening. Showering before bed will remove pollen from your hair and will help avoid spreading it all over your pillow and bedspreads.
Vacuum often. Vacuum your house at least twice per week to remove pollen and dust that have become trapped in your carpets. Consider wearing a mask when vacuuming, as your machine can kick up dust and pollen articles into the air when vacuuming and emptying it’s contents.
Clean out and replace filters as recommended. Many air conditioning units are equipped with whole house filters to trap dust and air particles. Clean and replace filters as recommended by your air conditioning unit and manufacturer’s recommendations.
Allergy Testing and Treatment
The good news is that you don’t have to suffer through tree pollen season. Be sure to contact an allergy and asthma specialist for a formal allergy evaluation, preferably before the season begins or very early in the season. You may already know that you have a seasonal allergy, but do not know just which pollen(s) you are allergic to. Allergists can determine the specific pollens that are causing your problems and can tell you when that pollen is expected to be in the air.
Your allergist will take a detailed history of any reactions you’ve had, then if indicated, he or she can test for allergies to identify the culprit allergen and determine the best course of treatment.
The most common method of testing for pollen allergies is a simple skin prick test. At our office, we use a very fine stylet that is lightly pressed against the skin. The stylet introduces individual pollens and other allergens to the immune system in your skin. If you’re allergic or sensitive to a particular allergen, a small pink raised bump will appear within minutes where the skin prick test was placed.
For some people, a blood test may be the best option to determine your allergic sensitivity. A small amount of your blood is taken and tested to check for antibodies that respond to specific allergens. Depending on your allergy test results, we can offer guidance about the best and most direct course of action for your symptoms.
Treatment options for tree pollen allergies can range from avoidance, to physician-recommended over-the-counter or prescription medicines to allergy shots (also known as allergen immunotherapy) for more severe reactions. Your allergist will work with you to determine what is best for your needs and your lifestyle.
What do you do if you’re caught off guard without allergy medicine?
Here’s a great, quick remedy treatment you can use in case you find yourself in a situation where you can’t take medication or avoid your triggers.
First, check the pollen forecast. Then use nasal saline rinse or irrigation several times throughout the day during the worst of the tree pollen season. The saline irrigation removes pollen particles from the surface of your nasal passages, clears thick or crusted nasal drainage and soothes irritated nasal membranes.
There are a number of studies that found that patients with allergic rhinitis or chronic sinusitis who use regular saline rinses have less bacterial load and require fewer antibiotics. Using a rinse may also reduce your need for medication to control allergies.
You can buy saline rinse or irrigation kits at any drugstore and many grocery stores. These kits usually use a squeeze bottle or gravity to direct saline through the nasal passages. A common squeeze bottle technique is to position your head downward and rotated slightly to the left (do this over a sink). Gently squeeze some of the solution into your right nostril; the solution will come out through your left nostril. Now repeat on the other side.
Ready or not, tree pollen season is here! If you haven’t already prepared and expect you’ll need help this season, be sure to contact us today to schedule an appointment. This is a gorgeous time of year that should not be missed by staying indoors. Don’t suffer, we’re here to help.
Coughing, sneezing, sniffling—if you’re an allergy sufferer, you know the drill. What’s worse is dealing with itchy, red eyes and sneezing in the bedroom, the one room in your home that should be a haven.
Did you know bedrooms can cause some of the worst exposure for allergy sufferers? It may surprise you where pesky allergens are hiding. Don’t let allergy symptoms ruin a good night’s rest. Learn more about common bedroom allergies and what you can do to avoid them.
Why the Bedroom?
The bedroom is home to a slew of allergens including dust mites, pet dander, chemicals, dust, and molds. Here you may spend 6-8 hours a day sleeping, getting ready for the day, or simply relaxing—which means you have a longer exposure to microscopic critters and particles that cause allergies and allergy-like symptoms.
Common Allergens in the Bedroom
If you suffer from allergies in the bedroom, it may be one of these three common allergens:
Bedrooms are the perfect breeding ground for dust mites. Learn more about them and how to avoid them.
What are they?
Dust mites are microscopic creatures that flourish in warm, damp conditions and often take up residence in mattresses, pillows, carpets, furniture, and fabrics. Dust mites feed on the skin cells you shed, obtain warmth from your body, and extract water from your sweat or exhaled breath. These tiny critters are completely harmless, but their microscopic droppings are known for triggering allergic reactions in allergy sufferers.
What are the symptoms?
Dust mite allergies can be mild or severe in some cases. The following are a few of the major symptoms:
Itchy or runny nose
Watery or red eyes
How can I avoid them?
We recommend that you wash your bed linens and dust your bedroom weekly. Minimize objects in your bedroom that collect dust such as stuffed animals or knick-knacks and protect your mattress, box spring, and pillows with special woven dust mite covers. These covers should have pores less than four microns in diameter. In extreme allergy cases, remove upholstered furniture or carpeting and replace with leather or vinyl furniture or wood, vinyl, linoleum, or tile flooring. Wash bedroom curtains on a regular basis or trade them for shades or blinds that you can wipe clean.
If you have cats or dogs in the house, their dander could be affecting your allergies in the bedroom. Here’s how:
What is it?
Animal or pet dander are skin particles containing proteins that become airborne and may produce allergic reactions. It’s not animal hair that causes an allergy as many suspect, it’s the dander produced by their skin. Due to the small size (often smaller than pollen or dust mite particles) dander can remain in the air for long periods of time.
What are the symptoms?
Animal dander can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms including:
Red, itchy eyes
Wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
Tightness in your chest
How can I avoid it?
In extreme pet allergy situations, you may need to remove the animal from your home. To reduce your exposure to allergens in the bedroom, keep pets outdoors or away from bedrooms. Don’t allow pets to be in carpeted areas or on upholstered furniture. Vacuum the floors and furniture weekly with a HEPA filter vacuum and wash your bedroom linens each week. Wash your hands after touching your pet and give your pet a bath once a week to reduce dirt and dander.
Mold is a silent offender that creeps in and leaves a mess in its wake. Here’s what you need to know to battle mold in the bedroom:
What is it?
Mold is a form of fungus that grows on objects such as carpet, paper, drywall, insulation, wood, and food. Molds flourish in dark, warm environments with moisture accumulation due to humidity, condensation, or water leaks. Pores can develop in as few as 24-48 hours in wet, warm conditions. Large colonies of mold that are visible to the eye are made from a network of connected multicellular filaments called hyphae. As it feeds on the organism it attaches to, the nutrients cause the mold to flourish and grow.
What are the symptoms?
The following are some common mold allergy symptoms:
Itchy, irritated eyes
Wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
How can I avoid it?
The first thing you need to do is control the moisture levels in your home by fixing any plumbing, roof, or AC leaks right away. Keep your bedroom well ventilated and avoid using rugs or carpet in this space if possible—if that isn’t possible it’s imperative that you vacuum regularly and use HEPA air filters to decrease indoor mold spores (multiple times per week is best). Shut doors and windows during the rainy season and use your air conditioning to reduce indoor moisture. A dehumidifier is a great tool to decrease the relative humidity in your home to below 40%. Minimize other sources of molds in your bedroom by removing houseplants, damp clothing, aquariums, books, or damp rugs.
Chronic hives are more than an uncomfortable itch begging to be scratched. Often confused with other types of rashes, chronic hives are marked by frequent outbreaks that may not have an identifiable trigger.
This skin condition affects around 20% of the population at some point in their lives. While typically not life threatening, the repetitive nature of chronic hives can cause significant discomfort and affect a person’s quality of life.
Read on to learn how to identify this skin condition, its symptoms and the appropriate forms of treatment.
What are Chronic Hives?
Chronic hives, also known as chronic urticaria, are hives that come and go for more than 6 weeks.
It’s difficult to determine exactly why hives occur, though some sufferers may be able to pinpoint certain trigger foods, insect bites or medications as the cause. Chronic hives may also occur in conjunction with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Other factors such as heat, stress, alcohol and even exercise can bring on a case of urticaria in susceptible individuals.
While anyone at any age can have a hive outbreak, it’s young adults and females that are most at risk for developing chronic hives.
What Do Chronic Hives Look Like?
Chronic hives often look like typical hives. An outbreak of hives can manifests all over the body but are usually most prominent on the arms, legs and torso. They typically produce pink, red and white puffy welts, which vary in size and shape. Some may be as small as a pen tip while others swell to the size of a dinner plate. Hives can form individually or connect to create larger patches.
The welts typically itch and may cause a brief painful, burning or warm sensation in the involved area.
How Can I Distinguish Them From Other Rashes?
Unlike other rashes, chronic hives often migrate around the body and usually respond well to allergy medications. Chronic hives are sometime associated with with angioedema, a form of tissue swelling that occurs deep in the skin. Angioedema causes swelling of the eyelids, mouth, hands, feet and sometimes can involve the throat.
The key difference between hives and other skin rashes is that each individual hive lesion rarely last more than 24 hours in one place and resolve without leaving marks or bruises. Most other rashes will last more than 24 hours in one spot and resolves slowly, leaving marks, discoloration or bruises.
How Can An Allergist Help Me Manage Chronic Hives?
Board-Certified Allergists & Immunologists are experts in the diagnosis and management of chronic hives. In addition to helping you better understand your condition, they can often identify common aggravating triggers for your rashes. Chronic hives can take weeks-years to resolve and often place a significant burden on quality of life. To make matter worse, over the counter medications can leave you feeling drowsy.
The good news is that there are several very effective, safe and well tolerated treatment options available. Your allergist can help tailor the best long-term treatment plan to assure you have the most symptom-free days as possible without undesirable medication side effects.
If you are suffering from chronic hives, contact our allergy specialists today and schedule a consultation to discuss the most effective treatments available for you.
One thing is for sure—you’re not feeling like yourself. But are you suffering from allergies, the common cold, or even worse, the flu?
It’s not always easy to identify the cause as you might think. The symptoms for each of these illnesses frequently overlap. However, there are some tell-tale signs to be aware of that may help you determine what the problem is and decide the best course of action.
Study the following symptoms to make sure you’re properly treating the underlying cause of your discomfort. As always, remember discussing this with your physician is the best option.
Signs of the Common Cold
The dreaded common cold. It’s common enough for everyone to experience it, but somehow it still doesn’t have an cure. It comes around frequently enough to be a problem as adults suffer from an average of 2 to 3 colds a year.
If you’re feeling under the weather, keep an eye on the following cold-like symptoms:
Thick, green or yellow mucus
Development of symptoms over a few days’ time
Mild body and headaches
Colds are most common in the spring and winter, but can show up any time of year.
Flu symptoms tend to be similar to cold symptoms but are often more severe. An estimated 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to the flu or flu-related complications each year. Some groups of the general population especially children and the elderly are more likely to suffer from life-threatening cases of the flu.
The following tell-tale signs point to the flu:
A high fever lasting 3 to 4 days
Severe body aches
Development of symptoms over a few days
Like the common cold, it’s possible to get the flu at any time of year but its peak season lasts from December to February.
Allergies have the uncanny ability to mimic cold and flu symptoms. However, they’re not caused by viruses but instead, provoked by an allergen or allergens. Allergies may develop at any stage of life and can cause chronic symptoms.
If you suspect you have allergies, watch out for the following:
Allergies may develop any time an allergen is present.
When to Talk to an Allergy Specialist
We often think of allergies as being as simple as a sniffle or a cough, but they can progress if not cared for. An allergy specialist will help you manage allergies and help you improve your quality of life.
Allergists can identify what triggers your allergies and then determine the most appropriate course of treatment. In some cases, over-the-counter medications may be ineffective. Your allergist may prescribe medications to reduce the symptoms of your allergies and prevent reactions.
New study out of the UK reports early introduction of peanuts may substantially reduce risk of developing a peanut food allergy. Read about the important findings here.
The original article in the New England Journal of Medicine can be found here.
Our board certified allergists Edward Mizrahi, MD, Patrick DeMarco, MD and Thomas Lupoli, DO have years of experience specializing in the complete care of both adult and pediatric allergy, asthma and sinus conditions.