Beautiful flowers and neatly cut grass come at a price – not just a monetary one. Their pollens cause millions to suffer from allergies each year and have for thousands of years, allergists say.”Allergy is a sign of immune strength, not weakness. It may signify those people who have ancestors that survived parasites,” said Bob Lanier, an allergist and clinical professor for the University of North Texas.
Allergies are one of the most common self-reported health issues in Fort Worth, and as many as 42 percent of Fort Worth residents suffer from them every year, according to a Fort Worth Public Health Department press release.
TCU students are no exception.
“So far, during the springtime at TCU, my allergies never fail to bother me,” said Nick McLemore, a junior finance major. “Usually I just start sneezing and have a runny nose.”
Robert Rogers, an area allergist, said Fort Worth harbors many common airborne allergens such as pollens, mold spores, dust mites and pet dander – all of which can found on campus.
“We have lots of allergens because our climate is so mild,” Rogers said. “Our pollination seasons overlap so much, we cover 10 months out of the year.”
Lanier said the current allergy season in Texas is weed season.
Ragweed is the most prevalent weed, especially in uncultivated areas, and contains very small pollen particles that travel as far as 500 miles, he said. The allergen’s presence in winter months is due to Mountain Cedar trees, which have pollen that blows up from Mexico, Lanier said.
Rogers attributed allergic reactions to a mistake made by the immune system – too much immunity.
The immune system in someone with allergies interprets the shape of harmless proteins as invaders, and it makes antibodies to fight what it interprets as harmful, he said.
“The immune system is supposed to look at a measles virus and think, ‘We need to fight that,'” Rogers said, “and it’s supposed to look at a dust mite and think, ‘We don’t have to fight that.'”
People with allergies are said to live longer but with a lesser quality of life, Lanier said.
Rogers said the effects of allergies are what lessen a person’s quality of life.
Symptoms are similar to cold virus symptoms, and many people are misdiagnosed with allergies when they only have colds, he said.
The symptoms a person experiences due to allergies are actually the person’s immune system fighting the mistakenly harmful allergens, which is why the body reacts to pollen and other particles like it would to a cold virus, Rogers said.
“Drainage is to get the ‘invader’ out of your nose,” he said. “Symptoms are logical if you needed them,” he said.
Lanier suggested treatments to those who actually do have allergies.
Simply avoiding the allergen is hard, but a person can take measures to get rid of the residue, he said. For instance, the electrostatic charge of hair collects pollen, and people could eliminate many symptoms if they wash their hair, Lanier said.
For long-term treatment to those who have allergies year-round, he recommends allergy shots and special allergy immunization shots similar to the flu vaccination.
The immunization shots, taken for about a year, could make effects of allergies disappear for 10 to 15 years, Lanier said. When the symptoms show signs of re-emergence, the patient receives a booster shot, he said.
Nasal sprays, such as Flonase, can be effective too, he said.
For seasonal allergies, Rogers recommends another remedy.
Antihistamines, such as Claritin, could be effective for people with seasonal allergies during times of symptoms, he said.
Lanier said that even though antihistamines could relieve some of the pains, he would not recommend them to everyone.
Women in their 20s or of child-bearing age should not take antihistamines every day, which could be harmful during pregnancy, he said.
Rogers agreed with Lanier that regardless of treatments, people with allergies have them for all their lives.
The day a person’s immune system makes antibodies against allergens is the day allergies start- and continue-for a lifetime, Rogers said.
People should accept the long-term nature of allergies and realize they must treat them for the rest of their lives, he said.