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Mold most likely to be behind your April allergies

Mar 06, 2023

by: Jacob Newton

Posted: Apr 14, 2023 / 03:57 PM CDT

Updated: Apr 14, 2023 / 03:57 PM CDT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Spring is here, and while that means many positives, such as the snow in melting away, longer days and warmer temperatures, for around 20% of the population, it also means something less pleasant; the beginning of seasonal allergies.

For some of us (myself included 🙋🏻‍♂️) these allergies have already begun to manifest in symptoms such as a stuffy nose, congestion and drainage. Friday, KELOLAND News spoke with R. Maclean Smith, a Sanford physician specializing in allergy and immunology, who answered a host of questions about the phenomena of seasonal allergies.

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"People who are allergic, they make antibodies against the various things that float around in the air like pollens and molds," began Smith. "Because they make antibodies against them, they’re hype-sensitive to these pollens."

Smith says that because the body recognizes the pollens and other allergens as a foreign body — a sort of false-alarm, as these elements are generally not considered a danger to the body — people will begin experiencing symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, congestion and more as the immune system kicks in to try to protect them.

According to Smith, about two people out of every 10 will have this problem, and that it's often hereditary. "it's something that gets passed on from generation to generation," he said, "and at one time it was thought to be an advantage to make a lot of this particular antibody."

This is because the antibody produced to fight allergens was not developed by your body for that purpose. "It was an antibody that was invented to protect humans from parasites," Smith said. In a society in which parasites are/were a major hazard, allergies may be a fair trade off for a reduced risk of dying from a parasitic infection.

Luckily, there are remedies today for seasonal allergies, and Smith points out that most of these have moved from prescription only to over-the-counter (OTC).

"There's several second generation antihistamines that have fewer side-effects than the old antihistamines like Benadryl," Smith said. "You can get brand names such as Allegra, Zyrtec, Xyzal, Claritin, all over the counter."

Smith says that these antihistamines are very effective against mild to moderate allergies, but for those with more severe symptoms, a stronger approach may be needed.

"They’re counting on nasal steroid sprays, which are also available over-the-counter," Smith said. He went on to note that these sprays are stronger than the antihistamine pills, but that they need to be started before your symptoms really start to hit. "If you wait till you’re miserable, they tend not to work very well."

While these nasal steroids will help a bit, even if started after the onset of symptoms, Smith says it works better as a preventative. Knowing when to start a nasal steroid can be helped by visiting an allergist, he adds, mentioning that they can help you in determining not only when to begin taking medicine, but also what exactly it is that you’re allergic to.

Antihistamines and nasal steroids don't just differ in when they’re used, but also in what it is that they do.

Patients with allergies have cells lining their nose called mast cells, Smith explained. They release a chemical called histamine, which causes the symptoms we associate with allergies, such as runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. An antihistamine seeks to block the histamine from being released when the body's immune response is triggered.

While antihistamines can block those histamines from being released there are a number of other chemicals also secreted by these mast cells. This is where the steroid comes in. "The nasal spray's stronger than the antihistamines, because they block many more of those little chemical mediators that cause symptoms.

As of the day this is being written, April 14, 2023, mold is likely the biggest culprit when it comes to allergies. One thing it specifically isn't, says Smith, is flowers.

"The flowers, they move their pollen from plant to plant with insects — these pollens that are causing the symptoms are called wind-borne pollens," said Smith. "They go hundreds of miles through the air."

The pollens in particular that cause our allergies are from trees, grass and weeds. Notably, not many of those are blooming right now in South Dakota.

"The trees come first each year, and for us that's going to be the end of April at the earliest," Smith said. "That's not outside right now for us — but the next thing that comes will be the grass."

Smith says grass is our first big season, and notes that it begins around May 21st every year, gets really bad in June, and is usually done by the beginning of July. After that comes the weeds, which begin in earnest in August, continuing through until the winter.

These are all still to come, so for the time being, that leaves those molds.

"The molds don't give you those explosive symptoms," Smith said. "They give you stuffy nose and congestion — like a cold that just doesn't go away.

Smith says this is caused by the emergence of these molds after the snow melts and the particles are kicked up in the air by the wind and other disturbances of the soil from whence they come.

If you’d like to visit an allergist to determine what exactly it is that is triggering your allergies, your first stop will likely be your primary care physician, who can help determine what medicines may be best for you. If those are not effective, then you may need to proceed to an allergist for a more specific course of treatment.

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