What are allergies?
Allergy is a broad term used to describe immune responses to proteins in the environment, said Estelle Levetin, department chairperson and professor of biological science at the University of Tulsa. It is when the immune system thinks it is protecting us, but it is reacting to harmless proteins.
“There are lots of different kinds of allergies,” Levetin said.
An allergy can be a chronic condition and can develop later in life, said Carolyn Blocksome, research assistant professor for horticulture natural resources at Kansas State University.
“It can be something you are born with and can also disappear,” Blocksome said.
Common causes and symptoms
Levetin said respiratory allergens are the most common for people and can be defined within three seasons. The first season is tree pollen season, since many of the trees that cause these allergies are pollinating in the spring. The second season is the grass pollen season, which starts around this time of year and will continue through mid-summer. The third season is the weed season, which usually lasts from early August through October.
“One of the first plants to release allergens through its pollen are the Junipers across the great plains,” Blocksome said. “They produce great clouds of allergens that affect people.”
Sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose are all common allergy symptoms, said Julie Gibbs, assistant director for Lafene Student Health Center. Gibbs encourages students that are experiencing such allergies to get tested to find out what is causing them.
“I know my son and I are allergic to different things, but we have the same symptoms,” Gibbs said.
Levetin said a way to reduce these allergy symptoms is by taking antihistamines. One of the chemicals released in the human body when affected by allergies is histamine, so taking antihistamines prevents those chemical reactions from happening.
“If possible, stay indoors when the pollen levels are high, and make sure you don’t have open windows,” Levetin said. “One of the things people with bad allergies should do is shower and wash their hair when they get home, since the pollen gets in your clothing and in your hair.”
Avoiding things one knows he or she is allergic to is one of the best ways to reduce symptoms, Gibbs said.
“If it is something like pollen, take over-the-counter medication,” Gibbs said. “Some people prefer Allegra or Claritin. And if that doesn’t work for you, we give allergy shots back in the clinic at Lafene.”
Levetin said more natural remedies can come from some plant-based compounds that will help decrease levels of inflammation. One of these is tea, and another popular suggestion is using local honey.
“Tea is a good decongestant, and will help open your air passages,” Levetin said. “Tea has high levels of theophylline, which is an ingredient that was used in asthma medication.”