Ahhh… springtime in Portland. That beautiful time of year when the sun shines a little longer, the plants begin to bloom, and, for many of us, the allergies start up. For parents with kids who have seasonal allergies, it can be be hard to know what to make of the sneezing, snuffling, and eye-watering that comes with a change in season.
To help us better understand the seasonal allergy landscape in Portland, we partnered with world-renowned allergist and immunologist Dr. Sanjeev Jain, founder of Columbia Allergy, who shares his expertise with us. In this Q&A, Dr. Jain breaks down typical allergens in our region, how to test for allergies, and options for treatment.
What are the most common seasonal allergies seen in our region?
The top seasonal allergens that can be found in the Portland area at this time of year are tree pollens such as Alder, Ash, and Poplar. As summer approaches, grass pollens such as timothy, ryegrass and fescue tend to be the main culprit for seasonal allergies. Common seasonal allergens in the fall include weed pollens such as ragweed, sagebrush and pigweed.
How long do seasonal allergies last?
How long your seasonal allergies last will depend on pollen counts of the allergens you are allergic to in your area. Typically, the spring allergy season for those with tree allergies will begin in February or March and last through May. Summer allergy season for those with grass allergies will begin in May and last through July. Fall allergy season for those with weed allergies will start in August and last through October.
Weather conditions such as a drought, increased rainfall, snow, and more can affect the length of these allergy seasons. If you suffer from allergies to a combination of trees, grasses, and weeds, you may experience seasonal allergies for a longer amount of time as one allergen concentration dies down and another blossoms.
Pollen counts for your area can be found online on the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s website provided by their National Allergy Bureau. This tool provides information on which pollens and molds are present and at what concentration.
At what age do children start showing signs of seasonal allergies?
Allergies, including those to pollens, can only occur after a person has had a subsequent exposure to a substance. For this reason, seasonal allergy symptoms are uncommon in children under two, as it usually takes more than one exposure to a seasonal pollen to develop symptoms. You may begin to see signs of seasonal allergies in young children over the age of two, but it is more commonly seen in children ages five and up. Children with asthma, eczema, and/or food allergies are often more susceptible to develop seasonal allergies as well.
How can families distinguish between allergies and a cold or other illness?
Common seasonal allergy symptoms can include itchy or watery eyes, congestion or runny nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, headache, ear congestion, coughing and worsening of asthma symptoms. These allergy symptoms occur when your body’s immune system recognizes a substance as foreign, and tries to protect your body by releasing inflammatory mediators like histamine. These mediators can cause swelling throughout the body. When this occurs in the airway, it can result in a cough, wheezing, mild shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and even a headache if the sinuses are affected. Postnasal drip can irritate the lining of your airway causing a sore throat and a cough. Some patients with more severe seasonal allergies may also experience fatigue.
Allergy symptoms tend to have a more gradual onset, and occur around the same time each year or after exposure to a certain allergen. Most of these symptoms will also improve with an antihistamine such as Zyrtec, Claritin, or Benadryl. Many patients with allergies will experience ear or eye symptoms along with their nasal or respiratory symptoms. Children with seasonal allergies may also experience allergic shiners from rubbing their eyes and noses. Patients with seasonal allergies are unlikely to experience a fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle or body aches, or new loss of taste or smell. Symptoms that have a sudden onset and do not improve once inside the home or with a change in environment are more likely to be due to a viral or bacterial illness.
How can we know what is causing the allergies?
Allergy testing through an allergist is the most effective way to determine what is causing a child’s allergy symptoms.
Skin prick testing can be useful in identifying potential environmental allergies. This test uses a pointed plastic device to apply potential allergens in a liquid form to the skin, usually on the back. After the allergens are applied, the patient will wait for 20 minutes to see if a reaction occurs to the allergens applied to the patient’s skin. In addition to determining which foods or environmental factors cause a reaction, this test can also help to identify the severity of these allergies based on the size of the reaction. If an allergy is present, the patient may develop an itchy, red bump at the location of the prick site on their skin. The itching will often resolve in several hours and can be managed with an antihistamine or topical medication if uncomfortable.
IgE blood tests can also be used to determine what is causing the allergy symptoms.The blood test checks to see if antigen-specific antibodies (IgE) exist, and how many antibodies exist for the specified antigens. If antigen-specific antibodies exist, it means that the patient’s body has identified this substance as foreign and has created antibodies to protect the body from this specific substance. If an allergen has high numbers of IgE that are present, this typically indicates a more severe allergy. An allergist can interpret these test results and determine the best course of treatment to alleviate the child’s seasonal allergy symptoms.
What are the treatment options for kids suffering from seasonal allergies?
Over-the-counter medications can help to alleviate mild to moderate allergy symptoms. Non-sedating antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Claritin are a great way to provide daily symptom relief.
If you are experiencing primarily nasal symptoms, you can also take a more localized approach and use medications like Flonase or a saline spray to help reduce inflammation and irritation of the nasal passages. Similarly, eye drops such as Zaditor or lubricating eye drops can help to reduce irritation and inflammation in the eyes.
If you are looking for natural ways to cope with and treat allergies, the most effective method would be to reduce or eliminate exposure to the known allergens. This can be done through the methods described above. If you do not know what you are allergic to, we recommend undergoing allergy testing so that you can have a more targeted approach to avoiding the allergens. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and your specific needs, you may be a candidate for subcutaneous (allergy shots), sublingual (SLIT) or ultrasound-guided intralymphatic immunotherapy (ILIT). These immunotherapy treatments introduce a controlled amount of the known allergens into your body. These amounts are gradually increased over time so that your body can be trained to not recognize the substances as a threat and can provide long-term relief and prevention of the symptoms instead of just the short-term symptomatic treatment that OTC meds provide.
Columbia Allergy has clinics throughout the Portland metro area. For more information on allergy testing and treatment, make an appointment at your nearest Columbia Allergy location.
The information provided on this website does not substitute professional medical advice. Content contained in on this website is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding your own medical condition or treatment.