For those with seasonal allergies and sensitivities, the summer season brings an abundance of sneezing, itching and other unpleasant symptoms. From lost workdays to increased healthcare costs, seasonal hypersensitivity can result in significant burdens from those with severe reactions. Some may even develop asthma exacerbations or seasonal gastrointestinal symptoms due to inhaled or ingested pollens.
As our changing climate alters the start, duration, and intensity of pollen seasons, it’s important to find ways to manage and alleviate some of those symptoms.
Types of Airborne Allergen Responses
As with food, pollen-related reactions may be driven by either IgE or IgG immune responses. In general, immediate reactions (minutes to hours after exposure) are “true” allergies, also known as IgE-mediated responses. On the other hand, chronic, inflammatory symptoms are generally associated with IgG-mediated reactions, which may not become apparent until more than 24 hours after exposure. Due to this delay, it can be difficult to pinpoint IgG reactions without proper testing.
In summary, cross-reactions occur when two substances share similar proteins, resulting in an immune response to a seemingly unrelated substance. Pollen exposures can promote cross-reactions with commonly eaten foods since pollens share common proteins with certain fruit and vegetable plants. Depending on the season (and allergy or sensitivity), these cross-reactivities can exacerbate reactions to both food and environmental sensitivities.
The below chart outlines some common cross-reactivities between foods and pollens:
|Season||Airborne Allergen||Food Cross-Reactivities|
|Spring||Birch Pollen||Almonds, apples, carrots, celery, cherries, coriander, fennel, hazelnuts, kiwi, parsley, peaches, pears, plums and raw potato|
|Summer||Grasses||Celery, cantaloupe, oranges, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon and some grains|
Banana, cantaloupe, chamomile, echinacea, honeydew melon, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, watermelon and zucchini
Apples, carrots, celery, kiwi, peanuts, anise seeds, caraway seeds, coriander, fennel seeds and parsley
|Winter||Dust Mites||Shrimp, crab, clam, lobster and oyster|
Managing Sensitivities During Pollen Season
If you suffer from either environmental or seasonal allergies, there are a few habits you can adopt to help keep symptoms under control:
Get tested for both allergies and IgG sensitivities.
First and foremost, it’s important to know whether you’re dealing with a “true” allergy or IgG-mediated sensitivity. Consult with your doctor to get an allergy test to common airborne allergens. For delayed, chronic reactions, it’s worth purchasing an IgG sensitivity test to evaluate non-IgE-mediated reactivity and food-inhalant cross-reactions.
Keep doors and windows closed.
Whether it be your house or car, limiting outdoor exposure by keeping your windows closed can make a dramatic difference for those with seasonal allergies. Air conditioners and purifiers can also help tremendously, particularly during the height of pollen season.
Minimize mold exposure.
In some cases, environmental mold exposures may be contributing to symptoms of irritation and inflammation. Research suggests that mold sensitivities and the changing climate might also play a role in the development, persistence and severity of asthma symptoms.
Regularly clean your living space.
In addition to washing your bedding with hot water on a weekly basis, dusting and vacuuming frequently is crucial for those with airborne sensitivities. If you have pets, keeping them off of furniture and out of bedrooms will not only provide relief for those with dander sensitivities, but also keep them from spreading outdoor allergens.
Consume anti-inflammatory foods, herbs and supplements.
In addition to your essential vitamins (A, C, D, E and B6), flavonoids— or the phytonutrients found in most fruits and vegetables — are extremely beneficial for their antioxidant content and other anti-inflammatory effects.
In summary, symptoms may be exacerbated by food sensitivities, food-pollen cross-reactions and indoor or environmental allergens. However, adopting some of these simple habits and management strategies may provide relief during the changing seasons.