Category: Jax Allergy News

halloween allergy safety tips

Our Top Tips for Allergy Safety this Halloween

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.

 Download Our Free Halloween Safety Checklist

Know Ahead of Time What Candies are Safe for Your Child

Untitled design (6)

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

Untitled design (7)

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.

Look for the Teal Pumpkins

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a FARE campaign to help make Halloween safer for kids with allergies.

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!

If you are worried that you or your child might have allergies or asthma – contact Allergy and Asthma Specialists of North Florida to schedule an appointment or to talk with one of our Board Certified Allergists.

For more great allergy safety information visit our friends at FoodAllergy.org

 Get Your Free Halloween Safety Checklist

how to deal with pet allergies

Pet Allergies and Kids: What Parents Need to Know

Pet allergies are your body’s physical reaction to an animal. People are usually allergic to the pet dander (an animal’s skin flakes), but they can also be allergic to a pet’s urine, saliva and even feces.

Allergic reactions to pet dander are not due to the animal’s fur, because fur itself is not an allergen. Fur does trap pollen and dust; however, and the skin flakes that make up dander can trigger allergic reactions. If your child has pet allergies and breathes in dander or comes in contact with saliva or other less “benign” pet products (i.e., droppings), his body will go on alert and may release histamine and other chemicals in response. Histamine acts by inflaming the nose and airways and causes the well-known pet dander allergy symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing.

What Kinds of Pet Dander Allergy Symptoms Will My Child Have?

Good question!

If your child seems to have year-round symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes and frequent sneezing indoors (as opposed to just having them happen at certain times of the year), these are signs that your child may have an allergy to dust mites, mold, or your pet.

In the case of year-round symptoms, you will need to do a little work–and with your allergist’s help– determine if it’s your pet or something else causing the reactions.

Before scheduling that appointment though, do a little detective work yourself…

First, watch your child playing with the pet. You want to try to pay attention to how he is before and after being in contact with the animal. It might also help to have your child spend time away from the house, say a weekend sleepover at Grandma’s or some other place without pets to determine if the symptoms have cleared up. When you re-introduce him to the pet, pay attention to his body’s reaction.

By the way, just removing the pet won’t help — there is likely plenty of pet dander left around to trigger a reaction in the animal’s absence.

If you believe that your pet is causing the allergies, it’s time to schedule an appointment with an allergy specialist. Depending on the symptoms, we may prescribe an antihistamine to handle the reactions. But if the symptoms are more intense or impact quality of life, then you will want to find out exactly what your child is allergic to and what the best treatment options are.

One thing to note: some people with allergic symptoms of the nose or eyes are fearful that if they get tested for pet allergies and are found allergic,  that we will immediately recommend rehoming the pet. We completely understand that pets are ‘part of the family’ for many of our patients. We are very pet friendly and usually work to help our patients tolerate their pets without having to rehome them.

The way allergists determine what your child is allergic to is commonly through a skin prick or skin scratch test, also known as allergy testing. Although it looks like it hurts, in reality it only involves small indentations or “pricks” on the upper layer of the skin. The allergist places a drop of an allergen extract at each scratch location. These extracts include animal dander, mites, pollens, and plant and food extracts. If your child is allergic to any of the extracts, the small bumps like mosquito bites will immediately appear in the test spots. These bumps are a mild immunologic reaction to the allergen extract and are indicative of allergies.

Once all of the testing is done, the only definitive way to know for certain if the family pet is an issue is to remove the pet from your home and do a deep cleaning (especially of the carpets and anywhere the pet has slept). Although direct exposure to your pet may be over, it can take up to six months for the allergen levels in your house to fall enough to stop the reactions.

Is it Possible to Prevent My Child from Developing an Allergy to Our Pet?

Probably not — some children are genetically predisposed to develop some sort of allergy. But if your family is set on having a pet then then do your best to keep the indoor environment as clean and as free of dander as possible

Also, be prepared for allergy symptoms to appear later on. It can take months of exposure before a child begins to have reactions to an animal.

Are Some Pets More Allergenic or Problematic Than Others?

Although it would seem like some breeds or species of animals would be more problematic than others, there is no scientific evidence to prove that. Even though some say that short-haired animals are less allergenic than their long-haired counterparts, this simply isn’t true since it’s not the fur but the dander (skin cells) that causes the reactions. Even a hairless dog is an allergic dog. Keeping your pet well groomed and washed can help prevent dander shedding, but that won’t entirely eliminate the risk of allergic reaction.

One reason people believe cats are more of a problem is because their dander is harder to avoid. Cat dander is smaller and more “sticky” than dog dander. This allows it travel further through the air and stay on surfaces longer.

Some parents opt for small pets like hamsters or other rodents for their allergic children, but even these animals can lead to allergies when children come in contact with their droppings or other body fluids. Think about their environment: when they’re in their cages they cannot avoid their droppings. This gets in their fur and then can cause reactions when your child handles them.

Birds are a somewhat different story. Although extremely rare, bird droppings can cause a chronic lung reaction known as “bird-fancier’s lung.” Symptoms include progressive shortness of breath, fatigue and scarring of lung tissues.  More commonly, we often treat patients who are allergic to the feathers for the bird.

If a pet is a “must-have,” consider our scaly friends: fish and reptiles. Some types of lizards can be very easy to care for, easy to clean and are very friendly. They still don’t make the perfect pet, though: reptiles can carry salmonella, so may not be best suited for small children.

If you do opt for this type of pet, you should follow a few basic safety tips. Make sure your child washes his or her hands after playing with the pet, don’t kiss the pet, and keep the pet in a regularly cleaned cage that’s away from your dining area.

What’s the Best Way to Treat Pet Allergies?

The best treatment option depends on the kinds of reactions your child has to his pet. Typically, for common allergic reactions of the eyes or nose, you can get a prescription medicine to counter the symptoms. Please be aware that some people think they can just take any over-the-counter product but many of these often have undesirable side effects, such as drowsiness. Fortunately, there are several non-drowsy preparations available over the counter these days.

Allergen immunotherapy, or “allergy shots”, is the ultimate allergy therapy for many people with allergies. It works by retraining the immune system to be more tolerant of environmental allergens. Immunotherapy is a long-term solution and often provides decades of relief. This is most beneficial in cases where someone cannot avoid exposure to the animal or if the allergic reactions cannot be relieved with medications.

What Else Can Be Done to Minimize Exposure to Pet Allergens?

Realistically, you may not be able to avoid all of the common allergens, but there are some steps you can take to reduce exposure:

  • Let pets out of the house as often as possible. If that’s not possible, try to restrict your pet to non-carpeted areas of the house and definitely keep it out of your child’s bedroom. Also keep pets off of furniture! The upholstery on your couch is a pet-dander magnet.
  • Invest in an air cleaner or purifier, and/or upgrade your filters. Keeping the tabby cat to one room won’t solve the problem in the other rooms. Air currents still spread the allergens, but you can fit your heating and air conditioning system with an upgraded filter. This alone won’t solve all problems, however, since the pet dander that has fallen on surfaces isn’t airborne.
  • Perform a thorough cleaning regularly. Upholstered furniture, carpets, bedding and even your walls can capture pet dander. If possible, remove carpeted flooring and replace with hard-surface flooring. If this isn’t feasible, make sure you vacuum and dust regularly (every other day is good); this will go a long way toward reducing the amount of allergens in your house.
  • Change your child’s clothes after he is done playing with the pet. Have your child wash his hands regularly and have him avoid touching his eyes or other sensitive parts of his face prone to a reaction. Make sure your child bathes or showers before bed to avoid bringing the allergens into his room and bedding.

We realize that pets often become part of the family and we are confident that through proper treatments you and your children will be able to enjoy your pets without having to remove them from the home.

All of the medications, immunotherapy and cleaning measures will not guarantee the eradication of pet dander allergies, but with the right care and treatment, you can keep allergies under control.

If you believe you or your child has pet allergies, contact Allergy and Asthma Specialists of North Florida today at 904-730-4870 or on our site at www.JaxAllergy.com and schedule an appointment for allergy testing.

17 Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Allergy Sensitive Kids

back to school food allergy tips

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.

Download Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan

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.

Here are some examples of what a child may say to describe their allergic reaction:

  • “My tongue is hot/on fire/burning…”
  • “It feels like something’s poking my tongue.”
  • “My tongue/mouth/lips is tingling…”
  • “My throat itches…”
  • “My mouth/tongue feels funny…”
  • “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!

If you suspect your child has allergies or asthma and would like to have him or her tested for food allergies, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified allergy and asthma specialists. We have four convenient allergy clinics in Jacksonville.

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:

Everything You Need to Know About Tree and Spring Pollen Allergies

tree pollen spring allergies

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 50 Worst Cities for Spring Allergies in 2016 (although, on the bright side — that is an improvement from the previous listing where we were in the top 30).

Across most of the country, trees don’t release their pollen until early spring. But, thanks to our temperate climate here in North Florida, local trees 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.

tree pollen

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.

What Trees Cause the Most Allergy Issues in Florida?

Tree pollen is a well-known, highly allergenic substance. Allergic trees native to Northeast Florida include:

Birch

river-birch-betula-nigra

River Birch are common in Northeast Florida. People with birch pollen allergies will be at their worst when the trees bloom, typically in late winter and early spring. However, birch pollen allergies are a bit different for sufferers — researchers have found that some produce can trigger allergic reactions in people susceptible to birch tree pollen allergies — this is oral allergy syndrome.

Bayberry

bayberry pollen allergies

Bayberry pollen can be easily spread when wind picks up in the spring. It’s a common Florida allergen, and many people are sensitive to the pollen as well as the scent. Bayberry is

Elms

elm tree pollen allergies jacksonville

Large, towering elms can be a beautiful sight, but for allergy sufferers elms can create a significant problem starting in late January though the spring months. Elms are wind pollinated trees and the pollen is easily carried by springtime winds.

Oak

oak tree pollen allergies jacksonville

Oak trees, especially Bluejack Oaks are a severe allergen for Floridians. These trees are common throughout residential areas and parks — so the pollen potential is very high. Oaks cause real seasonal suffering for people with oak pollen allergies because the trees have a long period of pollen production.

Maple

maple tree pollen allergies jacksonville

Red maples are one of the most abundant and widespread trees in North America. Maples are a moderate allergen and they are also one of the first trees to begin pollinating in the Winter and Spring seasons.

Pine

pine tree pollen allergies jacksonville

Although pine tree allergies are fairly uncommon, they do present issues for sufferers. Pines can be produce large amounts of pollen, often leaving layers of pollen on surfaces and spreading easily through the air. Pollen is usually worse in the early mornings, and can sometimes be mitigated by our moist, humid air.

Misconceptions About Tree Pollen Allergies

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.

Another common misconception (which can be applied to all types of allergies) is that you cannot develop seasonal allergies as an adult if you didn’t have them as a child. Allergic reactions can come on rapidly and appear even in adulthood. It is also common when people move to new regions and are exposed to allergens they may not have been exposed to where they previously lived.

Also, people believe that there is little to no pollen near the beach — but pollen can be airborne and carried for hundreds of miles well into our beach areas. While our beaches do have lower pollen counts, they also have wild grasses and plants that can increase allergic reactions.

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.
  • Always check the pollen forecasts. Be aware of what the coming days will bring. Like our Facebook page for allergy forecasts or visit www.pollen.com or weather.com for other allergy reports around Florida.
  • 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.

 

Problems in the bedroom? It May Be Your Allergies

bedroom allergy solutions

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:

Dust Mitescommon dust mites that cause allergies

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
  • Congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Cough
  • Scratchy throat
  • Watery or red eyes
  • Itchy skin

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.

Animal Dander

pet animal dander allergies

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:

  • Itchy skin
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
  • Asthma symptoms
  • Trouble breathing
  • 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

mold causing allergies in bedroom

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
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
  • Scratchy throat

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.

Are allergies getting the best of you? Contact the Board Certified Allergists at the Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida to help diagnose or manage your allergy symptoms. Make an appointment to learn more today.

title image: Copyright: poligonchik / 123RF Stock Photo

dust mites: Copyright: Eraxion / 123RF Stock Photo

pet dander: Copyright: websubstance / 123RF Stock Photo

mold: Copyright: fotostudiod3x / 123RF Stock Photo

Normandy Blvd Office Closing Early 2/19/15

Our Normandy Blvd office will close early at 2pm next Thursday 2/19 for required continuing medical education. Please mark your calenders and make appropriate arrangements. Allergy shots will be given 8am-2pm that day. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.