As the seasons change, many people find themselves facing allergies. While the usual symptoms of sneezing, congestion and itchy eyes are widely recognised, the impact of seasonal allergies on our brain function is far less known. Studies have discovered a link between common allergies and our cognitive abilities, including mood, memory and mental well-being. Bloom takes a closer look at this phenomenon.
Types of seasonal allergies and their effect on the body
Allergies refer to the body’s immune response to typically harmless substances that occur in the environment. These substances are known as allergens. When a person comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system mistakenly identifies this as a threat and initiates an immune response. This triggers the release of histamine, which leads to typical allergic reactions.
Allergens can include plant pollen, dust mites, pet dander, certain types of food, insect venom, mould and medication. Seasonal allergies refer to those allergens that are present in the environment during a specific time of the year, which usually corresponds to particular seasons. The most common types of seasonal allergens are pollen, mould and dust mites.
- Pollen. Pollen from trees, grasses and flowers is a primary seasonal allergen. People can suffer from seasonal allergies due to the fact that plants release pollen at different times of the year. There are many different types of pollen. Some of the common ones that occur in the southern hemisphere include:
- Grass pollen. Grasses that are known to produce allergenic pollen are Bermuda and Ryegrass, which are most prevalent during spring and summer.
- Tree pollen. Pollen from trees, like Acacias, produce pollen that can trigger allergies. Acacia pollen is most common in late winter and early spring.
- Flower pollen. Many flowers, like lilies, sunflowers, daisies, jasmine and roses, produce pollen that can cause allergenic reactions.
- Mould. Mould spores can be present all year round. However, certain types of mould release spores in higher quantities during specific seasons. Outdoor mould spores, for instance, are more prevalent during warm and humid conditions that are typical of spring or summer.
- Dust mites. These tiny, microscopic creatures feed on dead skin cells that are shed by humans and animals. While dust mites occur throughout the year, they do tend to increase in density during warm and humid months. These conditions allow dust mites to thrive and multiply, leading to higher concentrations of allergens in household dust.
Symptoms of allergies
Allergic reactions and symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. Some people may experience multiple allergies concurrently, while others only exhibit a single reaction, like sneezing, for instance. Typical allergy symptoms include;
- Sneezing, known as hay fever, in rapid succession
- Runny or congested nose
- Watery or itchy eyes, often accompanied by visibility red eyes
- Itchy throat or mouth, which presents as a scratchy feeling
- Persistent coughing, usually caused by postnasal drip
- Body rashes. Raised red itchy lumps appear on the skin
- Generalised itching, either as a rash or simply localised itching on the skin
- Headaches, which are usually caused by sinus pressure
- Difficulty breathing. Shortness of breath, wheezing or feeling tight in the chest. Some people have asthmatic reactions.
- Swelling, of the face, tongue, lips or throat. This is known as an anaphylaxis shock and is considered a life-threatening allergic reaction, in some cases.
The way seasonal allergies affect cognitive function
Several studies have concluded that seasonal allergies are linked to brain functioning. Some of the ways that the brain is affected are:
- Inflammatory response in the brain. Allergic reactions trigger an immune response which releases inflammatory substances (histamines). Inflammation in the brain has several consequences, including mood changes, dizziness and headaches.
- Sleep disturbances. Allergies can adversely affect your sleep cycle, preventing you from getting quality sleep. Sleep deprivation or poor-quality sleep can inhibit cognitive functioning by reducing your problem-solving skills and affecting your ability to pay attention.
- Allergic rhinitis. This is an allergic response that affects the nasal passages. It’s characterised by sneezing, nasal congestion or a runny nose. These symptoms can disrupt one’s sleep quality, leading to fatigue and reduced concentration.
Practical survival tips for seasonal allergies
Allergies are horrible, causing discomfort and other symptoms that are disruptive to your daily life and affect your overall well-being. There are some practical tips you can use to help alleviate the impact of seasonal allergies.
- Identify the triggers and take action. Once you’ve determined which specific allergens trigger your physical symptoms, you can take measures to avoid or minimise the impact. For instance, if you’re affected by the pollen count you could limit your outdoor activities during peak pollen times. Otherwise, you could keep your doors and windows closed and use an air purifier to filter indoor hair.
- Change clothes if you’ve spent time outdoors as pollen, dander or mould could accumulate on your clothing.
- Take medication. You can use over-the-counter antihistamines or nasal decongestants to provide relief from allergy symptoms. You can also get allergy shots from a healthcare professional, which will desensitise your immune system to allergens and provide long-term relief.
- Use a saline nasal irrigation. Rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution to flush out the allergens. It will also relieve congestion.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water will help thin mucus and relieve congestion in your sinus and nasal passages.
- Practice some allergy-proof home remedies. Reduce your contact with allergens by keeping your living space clean. Vacuum regularly and wash bedding, linen and clothing in hot water.
When should you seek professional help for seasonal allergies?
You should consult a healthcare professional, like your GP, for an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Severe allergic symptoms. If you experience difficulty breathing or persistent coughing, seek prompt medical attention.
- No relief from over-the-counter medication. If medications like antihistamines or nasal sprays offer little to no relief, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional and they could recommend prescription medication that may be more effective.
- Prolonged sleep disturbance. Visit your GP if your allergy symptoms affect your ability to sleep over an extended period of time.
Health insurance plans made easy
Bloom understands that seasonal allergies can cause physical discomfort and contribute to impaired cognitive functioning. Where possible, minimise the effects of allergies with our top tips. However, if these persist, we strongly advise that you consult with a medical healthcare practitioner. Get affordable health insurance or medical aid. Get in touch with one of our expert consultants for a free quote and a personalised plan.
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