It’s back-to-school time again, and if you’re the parent of a child in Jacksonville 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.
At Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida, we have a lot of patients come through our doors who are desperate for relief from their chronic pet-allergy symptoms but who are also distraught over the prospect of losing their furry best friends. Many allergy sufferers believe that the only way to be free of allergies is to sterilize their homes and live in a sort of bubble-type environment, devoid of any contact with pets. While it is true that some people with severe allergic disease may be required to remove animals from their home, our allergy specialists can work with you to develop a strategy that eases your allergy symptoms and may also allow you to keep your furry friends.
Read on for some easy tips to start reducing your allergy symptoms.
Living in the Jacksonville area, you know that pollen and other allergy-causing factors can get very bad certain times of the year. In fact, tree pollen is one of the worst and most common allergens we have here in Northeast Florida. Our area produces heavy levels of tree pollen starting in January. This is much earlier than the usual springtime pollen production seen in most other areas of the country. Many people gauge pollen levels by visual factors in the outside environment–like, the layer of yellow sometimes covering our cars. At that point, your allergies have more than likely already kicked into full gear and you can’t stop sneezing.
But learning about, understanding, and paying attention to pollen counts and pollen forecasts can prove to be invaluable in fighting allergies. More importantly, checking the local pollen count can be helpful in preventing the allergic discomfort that the ‘layer of yellow’ causes. Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding pollen counts and pollen allergy forecasts.
Sinusitis and asthma symptoms may be connected. Nearly half of individuals with moderate to severe asthma also experience sinusitis. Experiencing sinusitis on top of asthma can be difficult to manage when the symptoms leave you feeling sick and miserable. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen and even result in more severe cases of asthma.
If you’ve experienced a combination of sinusitis and asthma, you’re not alone. Learn more about the link between these two conditions and how to treat them.
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 amongst the Worst Cities for Spring Allergies in 2018 at #51 in the US (although, on the bright side — that is a slight improvement from the previous listing where we were #50).
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 usually start producing an abundance of pollen starting in early February (but that could start as early as December). And the pollen season in 2019 is expected to come early starting in late January.
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.
When spring is in the air, we know allergy season is fast approaching. The warmer weather causes plants to bloom and release pollen into the air. If you suffer from seasonal spring allergies, you likely experience symptoms starting in January and lasting through May. Occasionally, tree pollen shows up earlier in pollen counts so it’s important to prepare for spring allergies before the peak season begins.
Don’t wait until allergy season to get prepared. Whether you make an appointment with an allergist now or start taking allergy medications, plan in advance for spring allergies. If you haven’t been allergy tested, now is a great time to do it. Use the following seven tips to be proactive with allergies this spring.
1. Schedule an Appointment with Your Allergist
Don’t wait for allergy symptoms to start before making an appointment to see your allergist. Be sure to schedule your appointment before tree pollen appears in February, sometimes as early as January in Florida. An allergist can run tests to confirm the causes of your allergies and prepare a treatment plan to keep you feeling your best.
2. Start Allergy Treatment Before Symptoms Are Present
Your allergist may recommend antihistamines or other allergy medications to help you combat the spring allergy season. You should start taking medications around two weeks before you typically experience allergy symptoms.
Antihistamines help block or reduce histamines which cause allergy symptoms. Getting the medication in your system early can help ease or reduce a stuffy nose or itchy, watery eyes. If you need treatment beyond mediations, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can desensitize you to bothersome allergens over time. These treatments typically take a few months before patients feel relief but can offer lifelong relief of allergy symptoms, resulting in a significant decrease in medication use.
3. Track Pollen Levels
Grass and tree pollen are the biggest allergen offenders during the spring. Allergy apps for your smartphone or tablet can help you keep an eye on daily local pollen counts. In addition, keep track of the days when your allergies are worse to help you plan. Mid-morning and early evening are peak pollen hours. It’s best to stay indoors on days when the pollen counts are high.
4. Do Your Spring Cleaning Early
When longer days bring more daylight streaming through your windows, it’s easier to notice the dust and cobwebs that took over during the winter. Spring is a great time for allergy sufferers to deep clean their entire home to remove unwanted dust and pollen.
Spring Cleaning Checklist
Clean/dust all light fixtures
Vacuum upholstered furniture
Sweep and mop floors
5. Keep Windows Closed
As tempting as it is to fling open the windows and let the fresh air inside, keep them shut during peak pollen season. A fresh, spring breeze will likely bring pollen particles with it. Keep windows and doors shut in your home and your car to avoid pollen exposure until levels decline.
6. Refresh Your Air Filters
It’s recommended to change the air filter on your HVAC every three months to keep the air inside your home clean and fresh. It may also be time to change out the HEPA filter on your vacuum.
Don’t forget to consider other products around the house to help decrease exposure to allergens such as quality mattress covers and allergen-friendly pillowcases to reduce dust mites and prevent allergies.
7. Beware of Mold
Spring’s humidity also brings high quantities of mold spores in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, or any areas with high moisture. Check under sinks, around bathrooms, in closets on outside walls, and under the doormat. Clean and remove any mold and keep an eye on humidity levels in your home (below 50% recommended) to keep mold from returning. Repair any leaks and make sure areas have proper ventilation.
Are you ready for spring allergies in Jacksonville? Schedule an appointment today with the Allergy & Asthma Specialist of North Florida to make sure you’re prepared. Call us today at 904-730-4870 or request an appointment online.
Seven years after being pulled from drugstore shelves, Primatene Mist is back! If you’re a fan of this once-popular product, you can thank the manufacturers who came up with a reformulation that would satisfy environmental concerns. By switching up the propellant used in the inhaler, they were able to regain the FDA approval they had lost in 2011.
Unlike the original inhaler, this new version does not use ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Instead, is uses hydrofluoroalkanes (HFAs) as a propellant.
Asthma specialists and advocacy groups, however, have concerns about the renewed over the counter availability of this medication— here’s why:
Allergies or asthma can make us feel miserable. But when combined the results and symptoms can be much worse. Indoor and outdoor allergies impact over 50 million Americans with a wide range of triggers. Asthma affects 1 in 13 people and causes the airways inside the lungs to constrict and narrow making it difficult to breathe.
Allergies and asthma are the two most common chronic diseases in the United States, and they occur together more often than many people realize. In fact, allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
In Florida, allergy season begins as early as January when trees begin to release their pollen. The allergy season continues through summer and into the fall with grass pollen, ragweed pollen and molds. These allergens can trigger asthmatic symptoms in people allergic to them.
If you struggle with allergy and asthma symptoms, read on to learn more about how these two chronic diseases can be related and how to treat the symptoms.
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 auto-injector 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.
Understand the Signs of Anaphylaxis
An anaphylactic reaction can come on suddenly, and young children may not know what is happening to them so be aware of warning sings. A child might start to complain of:
Feeling like they have a lump in the throat (or they start sounding hoarse)
Seem to have trouble breathing or begin wheezing. May also start to complain of chest tightness
Say they have a tingling feeling in the hands, feet, lips or scalp
Begin to flush and get red around the neck or face
Other symptoms of anaphylaxis are dizziness and confusion.
If you, your child, or another child around you begin to experience any of the above symptoms, use an autoinjector (if you have one) and call 911 immediately.
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 with higher humidity and the potential for frequent showers and thunderstorms, according to Accuweather’s fall forecast: the “persistent wet pattern that occurred over the summer may continue into fall for the Southeast.”
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.