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The down & dirty on women's wellness
More than a Sneeze:
Redefining the Meaning of Allergy Season
More than a Sneeze:
Redefining the Meaning of Allergy Season
April 2, 2021
Crocuses are bursting out of the ground, cherry trees are unfurling their fluffy pink petals, eagerly budding trees are robed in the chartreuse halo of the new season’s leaves. The weather is warming & the sun is shining. The outdoors beckons. There are few things more glorious than the PNW Spring. Emerging from the grey drizzle is a rebirth unto itself. Being immersed in the fresh, lush flora of Springtime is a uniquely delightful experience.
Except for the pollen. The floating clouds of yellow that are settling onto our cars waft through the air, bringing with them a host of symptoms for those whose respiratory tract is sensitive to particular plant particles. This results in a variety of symptoms with which we are all generally familiar: sneezing, coughing, runny noses, asthmatic exacerbations, itchy eyes, sinus congestion. When we think of allergies, images from Zyrtec ads frequently come immediately to mind. We generally see the respiratory culprits & manifestations well-represented: someone planting flowers has to blow her nose; someone mowing her lawn stops to sneeze; someone walking her dog beneath the blooming trees develops a cough. Seasonal allergies are definitely a thing, but allergies can have myriad manifestations that have little (or nothing) to do with the respiratory tract.
Allergies are the result of a hypersensitivity to a particular substance that results in an inflammatory reaction inspired by the immune system. This inflammation is intended to attack & destroy an intruder that the immune system identifies as a threat. The inflammatory reaction is what assists our bodies in preventing infection or infestation by bacteria, viruses, parasites, & other pathogens that might compromise our health & well-being. This mechanism is essential for us to live in a world that is not sterile. Allergies occur as the result of an eager immune system that is attempting to protect our bodies but misinterprets a substance as a threat that is not actually a threat to our wellbeing. In order to have an allergic reaction, our bodies must come into contact or ingest the substance of interest, which can happen when we breathe in the allergens, as in the case of respiratory intruders that can trigger this response: smoke, pollen, dust, aerosolized chemicals. This is the representation that most immediately comes to mind when we think of allergies.
There are many more ways, however, that our bodies can ingest or come into contact with substances that may trigger allergic responses. For those allergic to bees, the injection via stinger of the bee’s venom can trigger an inflammatory response that can rapidly get out of control, sometimes resulting in anaphylaxis, which is a swelling in the airway that can be a threat to someone’s life. For those with food allergies, the introduction of the substance is generally not a result of breathing offending air but rather stems from the oral consumption of a particular food or the metabolism of the food to its constituent components, which themselves may be the source of the response. Eczema sufferers know that some substances that may contact the skin barrier can result in localized inflammation that causes a rash. The number of routes into our bodies are as varied as the body parts we have. Any opening (a mouth, an eye, a nostril, a pore) is a potential site of inoculation for substances our bodies might mistakenly treat as problematic intruders. Each body system affected can then respond in a manner that results in an array of possible symptoms, some of which we may not readily identify as allergic responses.
Food allergies can result in digestive woes, including heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, bloating & flatulence. Depending on the particular response, food allergies can also affect our respiratory systems, trigger asthmatic exacerbations, coughing, & increased mucous production. We might notice hives inside our mouths or develop visible sores inside or around our mouths or anuses. We may notice a burning or itching sensation in our mouths or abdomens, or rectums. We may have no discernible gastrointestinal effects at all, however. If our bodies react to proteins within the foods, we may have generalized symptoms, including achiness, cognitive problems, weight gain, neurologic symptoms, fatigue, painful or swollen lymph nodes, skin changes, or general itching.
Environmental allergies can include substances well-beyond those we might inhale. Topical products that we apply to our skin, dyes in our clothing, particular material used in clothing, & even soap can trigger inflammatory responses that may be localized or general. For people allergic to latex, we can be exposed in multiple ways to this substance: breathing it in, eating it, or coming into direct physical contact with it. Sometimes, we know we have an allergy because we can immediately identify the source of a symptom. Sometimes, however, the symptoms appear in a manner that seems unrelated to a particular substance either because the response is delayed or because a body system that was not in direct contact with the substance is where one experiences the symptoms caused by inflammation.
The Springtime sneezes, coughs & itchy eyes are readily identified as seasonal allergies, but we should all be aware that some allergies know no season & may rear their heads with contact during any month of the year, & we should all be aware that allergies to substances can suddenly occur simply as a result of previous & ongoing exposure. If you have symptoms that could be inflammatory for which you have no explanation, consider the environment, including the ingested environment, in which all your bodily tissues exist.