The Daily Gamecock

Allergic students anticipate pollen-filled spring

Seasonal symptoms cause sickness, discomfort



Hardly into the second week of March, trees have colored the brick walkways gold and left clumps of pollen in the ditches.

"When everything turns yellow, that's when it starts getting bad," said first-year music education with performance student Sarah Newton. "You know then that your life is about to suck."

Seasonal rhinitis, also known as seasonal allergies, is caused when airborne plant spores and pollen enter the body through the mouth, eyes or nose.
During this time of year, the main pollen producers in South Carolina include oak, elm, hickory and pecan trees. Allergies to this pollen are cause by an overactive immune system that perceives the plant material as an infection, according to USC School of Medicine's Director of the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Dr. David Amrol.

"The body sees dust mite, ragweed, pollen as dangerous so it creates an immune response to the allergen," Amrol said. "The response is actually what's detrimental."

Newton said she suffers allergies in both fall and spring.

"Spring is more severe due to the pollen, but they're both bad," she said. "I have hay fever, so the smell of fresh cut grass will trigger it, and the pollen obviously does too. Pets do it also. Anything you can relate with sneezing, like dust, triggers it. I have a messed up immune system."

While seasonal allergies caused by tree pollen are most common in the spring, pollen from grass and weeds in the fall and summer can also cause trouble.

"Spring is the worst and some people can be really miserable," Amrol said. "Seasonal rhinitis is a leading chronic illness, especially in children, and accounts for the majority of work and school absences. No mortality, of course, but a lot of morbidity around this time of year."

Symptoms are often similar to a cold and include sneezing, congestion or runny nose, itchy and watery eyes and a swollen, scratchy throat.

"I'm allergic to pollen, and it makes my nose really congested [and] my eyes watery, and I sneeze a lot," said Andrea Miller, a first-year fashion retailing and management student. "I get sinus headaches and cough sometimes too."

Such symptoms can cause problems for people in everyday life, especially for students who enjoy outdoor activities, but according to Amrol there are three types of broad treatment options that can help: avoidance, medication and allergen immunotherapy.

He suggests that allergy sufferers shower and change clothes immediately after being outside and keep windows closed during prime pollen season. Medications can be obtained over the counter and, for more severe cases, by a prescription. Antihistamines in many drugs, such as over-the-counter Allegra, Zyrtec and Claritin, alleviate itching and sneezing, while pseudoephedrine is used to help with congestion.

Allergen immunotherapy is delivered by low-dose shots of the allergen over several months in order to build up immunity. This is the most drastic step in allergy treatment and is primarily done for people who suffer the most during allergy season.

"I am a cellist, so when my eyes water profusely it is very difficult for me to read my music, so I struggle a bit during those times," said first-year music education student Jennifer O'Steen. "My allergies also keep me from going outside and enjoying the nice weather with my friends. I use Claritin and another over-the-counter brand to help with my symptoms. They get rid of them for the most part, but I don't like having to take several pills a day to feel good. I'd definitely consider getting a shot if it would help me and it wasn't too expensive."

More severe seasonal allergies is just something a person has to live with, according to Newton, who has been on prescribed medications since she was six. She said that while the prescriptions work, her body builds up an immunity to those drugs, forcing her to switch medicines yearly.

"It doesn't prevent me from doing anything, but there are limits on what I can," Newton said. "As soon as pollen starts to fall, I don't hang around outside anymore for long periods of time because I know it'll affect my allergies. After that early spring period, I just deal with the sneezing and feeling bad."