The Harbingers of Spring is in the Air... Quite Literally

Qian Qian Rachel Liu
23 January 2012

To many of us, the beautiful spring bloom can mean serious misery due to spring allergies caused by the amount of pollen floating in the air. Allergy sufferers are forced indoors, giving up visits to the park or a quick basketball game with friends after school.


Did You Know?
Though high pollen counts can affect numerous types of allergies, from eye allergies (conjunctivitis) to skin reactions (dermatitis), the most common spring allergy is allergic rhinitis. It is what gives you the sniffles that last weeks, and it is often referred to as "hay fever".

No matter what kind of allergic responses you have, be it tears, skin rashes, or sneezes, they are all caused by your immune system being too sensitive. But before we begin to understand what this means exactly, we need to consider the following scientific terms:

Antigens are foreign invaders, usually small particles like proteins, which cause an immune response.

Allergens are just antigens, such as pollen, dust, or molds, which cause a specific type of immune response known to us as allergies.

Antibodies are proteins covering your white blood cells that can bind to the allergens like a key that fits a lock. These antibodies act as signals for the white blood cells to "eat up" these allergens and digest them so they can no longer harm your body.

People that have allergies have a lot more of these antibodies than usual. When allergens are inhaled into our bodies, they are recognized by these antibodies. White blood cells then gobble up the allergens. However, the overwhelming amount of antibodies cause while blood cells to secrete chemicals,including histamine. These chemicals are what cause the allergic symptoms of sneezing, itching, watery eyes, nasal congestion or headaches as the body tries to fight off the foreign allergen.


Did You Know?
Antibodies are known as immunoglobulins, and there are 5 classes of them: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, and IgM. It is immunoglobulin E (IgE) that causes allergic reactions known as a "TypeI Hypersensitivity Reaction".

If you think you have an allergy, the easiest way to assess it is to visit your doctor, who can then refer you to an allergist who can give you more information.Spring allergy symptoms can be confused with having a cold or infection such as a sinus infection. One way to distinguish them is that allergies are generally not accomplished by muscle aches and fevers like most infections. In addition, allergy symptoms can last for months while cold symptoms only last for one or two weeks.


Did You Know?
A survey suggested that more than half of the population of the United States have allergies to at least one environmental allergen. So if you think you have an allergy, you are not alone! Seasonal allergies have a large impact on not just quality of life, but the economy. Missed workdays because of allergies cost U.S. companies more than $250 million a year.

Fortunately, treatments of allergies are usually very effective. One of the most effective is for you to stay indoors as much as possible in order to avoid pollen. Using an air humidifier also allows the pollen to settle to the ground. You should get an examination of exactly what type allergens make you allergic.For example, if it is a specific type of pollen that causes immune reactions for you, staying away from that pollen can greatly relieve your symptoms. After being outdoors and/or before you go to sleep, take a good shower to eliminate all the allergens from your skin and hair.This way you can keep your room and bed allergen free. Vacuuming frequently is also a good thing to do.

Antihistamines such as Allegra, Claritin, Clarinex, and Benadryl act by lowering your body's histamine levels, thus relieve you of the allergy symptoms. Decongestants such as Sudafed and Neo-Synephrine relieve nasal congestion by shrinking blood vessels in the nose. Steroid nasals sprays such as Rhinocort and Nasonex reduce nasal inflammation and congestion, but these drugs must be prescribed by a doctor.

Learn more!

Allergies & Asthma

Spring allergy guide

Treating spring allergies

Qian Qian (Rachel) Liu is a 4th year student at UBC who studies MedicalLaboratory Sciences and conducts research in neuron development at thelab in the department of Neuroscience. In her free time, Qian Qian doesa lot of volunteering in the community. She is involved with the KidsHelp Phone organization in Vancouver, and volunteers on the phone linesof the Crisis Centre for Suicide Prevention.

Qian Qian Rachel Liu

I am a fourth year student in the Medical Laboratory Sciences Program at the University of British Columbia. Currently, I am conducting my own research project at the Department of Neuroscience at UBC.  I was born in China and have lived in Vancouver for 9 years. I am a big movie buff and enjoy spending time with my friends!

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