According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an estimated 26 million Americans suffer from chronic seasonal allergies. Including individuals who suffer from milder symptoms, that number may be as high as 40 million. It is estimated that Americans spend $2.4 million annually on medications designed to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal allergies and an additional $1.1 billion in related doctors’ bills.

So, what exactly is an allergy? Simply put, an allergy is caused by the body’s hypersensitivity to environmental substances. Scientists believe that allergies originated millions of years ago as a way for the human body to rid itself of invading parasites. The body fights such invaders by producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E.

IgE triggers the body’s immune system to produce and release a series of chemicals, one of which is histamine. Histamine is the cause of many of seasonal allergies’ classic symptoms, including, but not limited to, hives, watery eyes, sneezing and itching.

The most common symptom of seasonal allergies is allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. Similar to the common cold, allergic rhinitis results in a nasal discharge that is generally thin and clear. Colored or thick discharge may be symptomatic of an underlying sinus infection and should be checked out by a medical professional.

Many people unsuccessfully attempt to manage their seasonal allergies on their own. There are countless brands of antihistamines on the market, and only a licensed medical professional can appropriately determine which medication is right for you.

Over time, a simple allergic reaction may progress to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition in which a person’s airway and breathing becomes impaired due to the swelling and fluid caused by the body’s release of histamines. With proper medical guidance, most seasonal allergies can be easily controlled with a combination of medication and environmental alterations.

If you are concerned about seasonal allergies, please contact UHS to make an appointment with your primary care provider.

Newman works in the Health Promotion Office of the University Health Service and can be reached at

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