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Taking Time to Smell the Flowers… But at What Cost?

It’s a seasonal tradition for many: sneezing, runny noses and itchy eyes. It’s cruel: winter is ending, the weather is getting better, and plants are starting to bloom. But suddenly, you get hit with unbearable congestion that seems to prevent you from stepping outside. Suddenly, you must remind yourself constantly to STAY AWAY FROM FLOWERS. Trust me, I’ve forgotten more than a few times and had to sprint home and take a shower before I got hit by an onslaught of symptoms that ruin my day. Additionally, in the age of COVID, I get dirty looks from strangers for sneezing in public. You may have already figured out: I’m talking about pollen allergies.  

Over 60 million Americans suffer from allergies, but there are no cures and only a few treatments that only treat the symptoms. According to Vox, you develop these irritating symptoms when little grains of pollen get carried by wind, with the purpose of landing on another plant and fertilizing it, but they end up in your eyes and nose, causing sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes for the unfortunate souls who have this allergy. An allergy is when your white blood cells react to a foreign substance—in this case pollen—and mistakenly creates antibodies to attack it, thinking the substance poses a risk to your health. This internal process also creates histamine that gives you the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Your body’s production of histamine is why you see common allergy medicines like Claritin and Zyrtec labeled as an antihistamine on their boxes. That means they limit and reduce your symptoms but do nothing to combat the actual allergy.  

For people like me who suffer from pollen allergies, there are very few options to eliminate allergies for the long term. One of the options is immunotherapy. Patients visit a doctor’s office every few weeks to months, depending on how far along they are, to take a pill or shot with the purpose of desensitizing your body to pollen. That is effective because a miniscule amount of the thing you’re allergic to is put in the shot to provoke your immune system, just like a vaccine. Over time, your doctor adds more allergens into your shot to get your body and immune system used to the presence of the substance that causes you so much agony and frustration. 

Speaking from experience, years of immunotherapy has improved my allergies significantly and has allowed me to experience the beautiful outdoors in the spring with my friends and family without having to retreat almost immediately back into my house. Unfortunately, immunotherapy isn’t perfect and has some flaws that can turn many people away from it. Firstly, it’s tedious work going to the doctor’s office every few weeks at the start of treatment, especially during COVID. Another requirement that turns people away is that you have to wait half an hour after your shot to make sure you don’t have a reaction, which can feel like 30 minutes of your life you’re not getting back. Given this, it’s easy to see why some people choose not to take immunotherapy.

With the rise of COVID this past year, sneezing (a common symptom of seasonal allergies) in public has turned into the stuff of nightmares for people with pollen allergies, especially in the Spring. Before the Coronavirus, if you covered your mouth when you sneezed, you’d be safe from dirty looks and scowls. Unfortunately, as all of you know by now, sneezing and coughing is a major way COVID is spread, so people are (understandably) afraid of getting saliva droplets on them. Alas, people take this rational fear to an extreme. As a seasonal allergy sufferer, I feel a wave of dread creep over me if I’m out in public and I’m about to sneeze. I search the surroundings as quickly as possible to find a place of refuge far away from everyone else. If I do sneeze in public nowadays, I get dirty looks from all directions, while I keep my head down and dare not to look up.  

There are so many hidden not-so-fun surprises seasonal allergy sufferers have come to expect every year that rapidly deteriorate any fun outdoors. On the bright side, compared to other allergies, the common symptoms of pollen allergies are leaps and bounds better than other allergies. Trust me, my sister is allergic to nuts and must carry around an EpiPen out of fear of having an anaphylactic allergic reaction. Additionally, you can take medications and shots to limit or even eliminate entirely seasonal allergies. From reading this article, I hope you have a better lens into the experience of having seasonal allergies. 

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