By Brenda Owen

Daily Journal

Even the most beautiful spring and summer days can be miserable for those who suffer from allergies.

Tupelo allergy specialist Dr. Robert Irwin said allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever, accounts for more than 11 million office visits a year, affects approximately 20 percent of the American population, and ranks as the sixth most prevalent chronic illness.

“The scope of allergic rhinitis is truly broader than once believed,” Irwin said. “It can cause significant functional and quality of life impairment; it affects up to 58 percent of asthmatics; and it contributes to approximately one third of all cases of chronic sinusitis, otitis media and nasal polyps.”

For 1996, estimated costs in the United States will reach $2 billion for allergic rhinitis alone, he said. The cost, which includes mainly offices visits, diagnostic tests, and medicines, is only a portion of the total economic impact, which could reach $10 billion when associated airway diseases are considered.

“Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is caused by an exposure to inhaled allergens such as pollens and molds,” Irwin said. “Here in the Southeast, the pollen of such trees as oak, elms, ash, hickory, poplar, sycamore, maple and cedar is often the cause of early spring hay fever.”

Late spring and early summer hay fever is usually caused by pollinating grasses, including timothy, Bermuda, orchard, sweet vernal, redtop and some blue grasses, he said. Besides ragweed, which is considered to be the pollen most responsible for late summer and fall seasonal allergic rhinitis, there are other weeds that can cause pollen allergy, including English plantain, yellow dock, pigweed, and cocklebur.

Another common allergen is molds, which thrive in moist, dark places and produce and disperse spores.

“Molds can be found throughout the year, and can be a problem both outdoors and inside the home,” Irwin said.

Other allergic reactions are caused by pet dander, dust mites, smoke and viruses. Often, an allergic reaction is the result of exposure to many different allergens at once.

Linda Patterson, extension health specialist at Mississippi State University, said combinations of different allergens often cause adverse effects as the body’s immune system is overwhelmed.

“Your reaction may depend on how much and how many allergens you are exposed to, and whether or not your body can handle it,” Patterson said.

The warm temperatures and blooming plants of spring and summer bring out stinging and biting insects in high numbers. Insects may only be bothersome to most people, but for those who have allergies, they can present major problems.

Patterson recommended avoid wearing perfumes or sprays which may attract insects when outdoors. Don’t walk barefoot outdoors to avoid stepping on stinging or biting insects .

Spring cleaning also can trigger allergic reactions.

“A combination such as dust or cleaner fumes from spring cleaning and exposure to high levels of pollen in the air may be too much for some to handle,” Patterson said.

To help avoid exposure to too much dust when cleaning homes, set up a cleaning schedule instead of trying to do everything in one day. Wear a snug fitting mouth and nose mask when emptying vacuum bags or cleaning draperies, rugs or storage areas.

Air filters with small pores will help eliminate more particles from the air, she said and ceiling fans can help keep air inside homes circulated through the filters.

“When cleaning, use solutions that are applied directly to surfaces rather than sprays,” she said. “Solutions are more body-friendly, since you are less likely to inhale as much of a substance if it isn’t a fine mist.”

Click video to hear audio