The summer may be winding down but hay fever season is just about to kick in.
According to Dr. Diane Ozog, who is on the medical staff of Central DuPage Hospital, hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is common from mid-August through September.
In DuPage County, the common ragweed is the main culprit behind the allergy, said Scott Kobal, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District ecologist. Because ragweed can grow in almost any type of soil, the plant is hard to remove.
“It’s just one of those plants that colonizes quickly and you can’t get rid of them completely because they’re too common of a plant,” Kobal said. “You can find ragweed just about anywhere.”
Plants like ragweed that are pollinated by the wind cause hay fever when people passing by the plants outdoors breathe in the pollen. Kobal said goldenrod is often blamed as the cause of hay fever, but it is insect pollinated, a trait visible by the plant having flowers.
Though symptoms vary from patient to patient, most experience sneezing, nasal congestion and redness, Ozog said. These symptoms are caused by allergens like pollen, which enter a person’s immune system, causing it to release histamines, which then causes inflammation.
Some patients who already have breathing problems may be affected year-round by the symptoms, which can detract from their daily routines, Ozog said, and lead to other breathing problems, such as bronchitis.
“Symptoms are present in different ways,” Ozog said. “Some patients can be fine the rest of the year, but those who are severely symptomatic may find it hard to function and can lead to secondary infections.”
To combat hay fever, residents can take several steps. The best way to avoid dealing with congestion and other symptoms is to stay indoors, therefore avoiding the allergen completely, Ozog said. Other steps residents can take to eliminate exposure include closing all windows and doors, using air conditioning and using a HEPA air filter.
But for those who can’t stay indoors all day, Julia Deuschle, a registered nurse at Oakbrook Allergists, said over-the-counter medication that included antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, Allegra and Claritin, can help calm the symptoms.
Patients should also use eye drops and a cool compress to reduce swelling, if their eyes redden or itch, instead of scratching the delicate tissue around the eyes. As for runny noses, over-the-counter nose sprays usually work well, Deuschle said.
Still, according to Ozog, if the allergies continue for long periods of time, taking allergy shots may be a good option.
“Allergy shots are the ultimate treatment,” she said.
For allergy shots to be recommended for a patient, Ozog said she has to review the effects of hay fever or other allergens on the patient first, in terms of how the allergy affects his or her quality of life, the possibility of infection or further breathing problems and the results of skin and allergy tests.
Although hay fever may remain a yearly nuisance for most, staying aware of symptoms can help residents enjoy the last weeks of summer in a healthy way.