As summer arrives here in the Lowcountry, everyone is ready to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities. Between no school, baseball games, summer camps and afternoons at the swimming pool, kids especially are spending a lot of their time outdoors. The exercise and fresh air are great – the summer allergies, not so much.
From weeds and grass to biting mosquitos and stinging fire ants, pesky hazards abound. Here are three potentially problematic allergy culprits to watch for this summer:
1. Pesky bugs
Living in the Lowcountry means dealing with bugs, particularly mosquitoes, fire ants and even those annoying gnats. Bites leave swollen red spots on pretty much anyone they decide makes a tasty snack. Because their skin tends to be more sensitive, little children may have large swellings at the spot of the mosquito or gnat bite. Kids also scratch the itchy bumps and end up with scabs.
The good news, says Dr. Meredith L. Moore at Charleston Allergy & Asthma, is that there are very few cases of people being allergic to mosquito bites. They’re mostly just annoying.
Venomous insects, such as fire ants and yellow jackets, can be a much bigger problem, she says. These stinging insects will inject venom into the skin, which results in large local swelling in most cases. Yet about 3 percent of people can have a severe, life-threatening allergy to the venom.
Parents should watch for such symptoms as hives all over the body, swelling of tongue or eyes, or coughing – all of which indicate a risk for anaphylaxis. In these situations, parents should seek medical care for a severe allergic reaction. Injectable epinephrine is the most effective treatment for a severe reaction. Venom immunotherapy is the best long-term treatment to reduce allergic reactions to venomous insects.
In most situations, though, treating bug bites or stings with an antihistamine or a topical hydrocortisone cream works well to alleviate symptoms.
While many parents are concerned about overuse of bug repellent, Moore says repellants are effective and those containing the repellent DEET are safe to use in their lowest concentration.
2. Food + pollen = allergy
Grass pollen season peaks in the summer, immediately followed by peak weed pollination at the end of summer and early fall. This can lead to itchy eyes/nose, sneezing, congestion and just feeling miserable, especially when spending a lot of time outdoors, Moore explains.
Many people may not realize their pollen allergy can react with certain foods to create oral allergy syndrome.
Some patients with grass or weed allergies also have allergies to fresh fruits and vegetables that specifically cross react with their pollen sensitivities. Symptoms include itching and swelling of the lips, tongue and sometimes throat.
Grass pollen allergy is commonly associated with sensitivity to watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew. Weed allergy will often contribute to symptoms with melons, bananas, cucumbers and carrots. Birch pollen can cross react with apples and pears as well as peaches, cherries and other pitted fruits.
“Many patients will go for years without understanding why they have these symptoms with certain foods,” Moore says.
In many cases, allergy shots targeting their pollen allergies will improve their fruit and vegetable sensitivities. You also can simply avoid the food in its raw form and sometimes removing the skin helps.
3. Itching poison ivy
Poison ivy causes an itchy, red rash that can last for days to weeks. The reaction to poison ivy is generally delayed – not appearing until hours after exposure and sometimes even the next day, Moore explains.
Usually using an antihistamine or a topical steroid cream helps manage the itchy symptoms. Moore says if the rash spreads to the eyes or mouth or if it’s so disruptive, you can’t sleep or go to work/school, it may be time to head to the doctor for a more potent treatment for the symptoms.
You don’t need to avoid the great outdoors this summer, simply be aware of any unusual or especially serious symptoms. In those cases, it may be necessary to visit a board certified allergist to discuss regular allergy shots or other treatments.
For more than three decades, the team at Charleston Allergy & Asthma has been helping Lowcountry residents breathe better, feel better and live better. All the doctors are board certified allergists who use the latest treatments available to manage a wide range of allergies and asthma.
To request an appointment or learn more about services, visit charlestonallergy.com.