Dr. Jay Portnoy helps share 8 surprising facts about asthma and seasonal allergies
From thunderstorms to ladybug allergies, the lowdown on what's got you coughing and sneezing this allergy season. Do you know what you’re up against?
It's easy enough to run for cover when the trees start flowering, sending bursts of pollen into the air – spring be darned; seasonal allergies take precedence. But those obvious triggers aren't the only thing making you sneeze and rub your eyes. Ever wonder why you can't catch your breath during a thunderstorm – or why your lips itch after biting into a pear? Read on, and then prepare to wow with your asthma and seasonal allergies know-how:
Pollen travels hundreds of miles.
Just when you thought it was safe to move across state lines, turns out pollen may be in hot pursuit. Ragweed pollen – which can be detected as early as mid-to-late July in some parts of the country, but mostly blooms in mid-August and peaks around early September – has been measured in the air 400 miles out to sea and two miles into the atmosphere, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Surprised yet? For perspective, Detroit to the District of Columbia measures just shy of 400 miles.
You’re probably not allergic to flowers.
Dr. Jay Portnoy, director of the division of allergy, asthma and immunology at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, says it’s rare for flower pollen to worsen your seasonal allergy symptoms: “You’re not allergic to flowers, you’re allergic to weeds, grasses or trees,” he says. Flower pollen is heavy and doesn’t get swept up into the air like pollens from trees, grasses or weeds. Plus, since flowers rely on insects to carry their pollen, they don’t make as much of it, he says. Plants, on the other hand, are causing your runny nose and itchy eyes by using wind to carry large amounts of pollen.
Pollen seasons are longer than they used to be.
Every year, the allergy season is dubbed worse than ever. There’s good reason for that, says Dr. Leonard Bielory, director of the STARx Allergy and Asthma Center in Springfield, New Jersey: "The increased [carbon dioxide] is going to drive the plant reproductive cycle and produce more pollen and drive more allergens into the area.” A 2011 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that since 1995, the ragweed season has extended 13 to 27 days longer across the U.S. And in the spring, pollen from trees blooms weeks earlier now than it did 20 years ago.
Ladybug allergies are real.
“Ladybugs are usually thought of as cute and even good luck,” says Dr. Andy Nish, director of the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Gainesville, Georgia. “However, it is possible to develop an allergy to ladybugs, just like you can become allergic to dogs or pollen.” Symptoms include cough, stuffy nose and worsened asthma. “Ladybugs usually seek warmth indoors in the fall, then come back out in the spring, at which time a large exposure may occur.” Avoiding the beetles is best. “But if you only spot a single ladybug buzzing around your house, don’t stress,” Nish says.
Lone star ticks may trigger a meat allergy.
The alpha-gal allergy – or being sensitive to the carbohydrates found in meat – is "switched on" by a bite from the lone star tick, Nish says, which is widespread in the southeast and south central areas of the U.S. While most food allergy symptomsappear within two hours, this one takes up to eight. You may eat a steak dinner and feel fine, but wake up covered in hives and have difficulty breathing, Nish says. People with alpha-gal should avoid eating meat and carry an epinephrine auto-injector, or EpiPen.
Thunderstorms worsen asthma.
Rain is usually good for allergy sufferers because it clears pollen out of the air – but that's not the case for thunderstorms, says Dr. Mitchell Grayson, an associate professor of pediatrics in the division of allergy and clinical immunology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “With thunderstorms, mold and pollen cells will be ripped apart,” he says. “Exploding” allergens carried by the wind often send people with asthma to the emergency room, Portnoy says, adding that they should use their inhalers and be prepared during storms.
Certain foods are linked to pollen allergies.
Have you ever noticed that biting into an apple makes your lips itch? If so, you might have oral allergy syndrome – which is caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables and some tree nuts, Nish says. Birch pollen is related to apples, almonds, carrots, celery, cherries, hazelnuts, kiwis, peaches, pears and plums. Grass pollen is linked to celery, melons, oranges, peaches and tomatoes. And people with a ragweed allergy might react to bananas, cucumbers, melons, sunflower seeds and zucchini.
Fruit and nut peels can lead to a wicked rash.
While it’s not common, it’s possible to develop a rash that resembles poison ivy or oak by coming into contact with mango peels and unpeeled cashews, Nish says. The rash can last for several days; typically, no other symptoms will appear. These types of fruits and nuts are often processed with a chemical found in poison ivy, which is why they produce the rash. Plus, cashews are related to poison sumac, which can provoke an allergic reaction.
Stress intensifies symptoms.
“Psychological stress can exacerbate disease, and asthma is no different,” Bielory says. “Anxiety makes your breath shallow and shorter, which can make it worse.” Studies have shown that stress is known to increase the rate of asthma hospitalizations needed for treatment. Even laughing or crying too hard, or getting angry or fearful, can offset your breathing. So relax, take a deep breath and don’t forget to smell the roses (or not).
Read the story via U.S. News & World Report.
Read more about Children's Mercy's Division of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.