If springtime makes you as drowsy as the “Cowardly Lion” running through a field of poppies, you’re not alone. Approximately 50 million Americans have allergies, which is the body’s reaction to a substance it perceives as foreign. In addition to drowsiness, symptoms of spring allergies are itchy, watery eyes, a stuffy, runny nose and a cough. Airborne allergies are the most common allergies, and can be seasonal or year-round. They result from an immediate or delayed reaction to airborne allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites or animal allergens. Perhaps the best-known and most common airborne allergy is hay fever (or allergic rhinitis), which is usually seasonal and affects at least one in 10 of all Americans. Millions of others suffer from allergies to cockroaches, dust mites, mold and pets. “Since all the grass, trees and flowers have started blooming, we’re seeing a lot of congestion and runny noses associated with allergies,” said City Drug pharmacist Joe King. “Drowsiness is a common factor of any over-the-counter antihistamine. Anyone that plans to take an antihistamine needs to know how that particular drug will affect their system. “Folks taking over-the-counter medications that contain multiple ingredients need to be sure to read the contents so that they don’t duplicate the ingredients, particularly aceto-minophen or Tylenol. There is more and more concern for people getting too much Tylenol which if used excessively can cause liver and kidney damage. “Be sure and read and follow the directions explicitly and don’t overdo the dosage,” cautioned King. While the average age for the onset of allergies is around 10, anyone is potentially susceptible. Studies show that boys younger than age 10 are twice as likely as girls to have symptoms of airborne allergies; among adults, occurrences are about equal. Children’s allergies typically begin with pets, dust mites and molds because these are the things they are introduced to first in their lives at home. However, as outside exposures become more frequent, hay fever becomes more prevalent and is typically seen after age three. Like other allergies, airborne allergies result from the body’s defense mechanism to a suspected intruder. The immune system overreacts to the intruder–an allergen. In response, the body then produces an antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), to fight off the allergen. Once allergens enter the body they affect the respiratory system, skin and exocrine systems and the lymphatic systems. Studies have shown that allergy sufferers tend to have a higher concentration of IgE antibodies in their systems. Pre-dominant age: Average age of onset is 10; however, reactions may occur anytime. Allergies also have a tendency to diminish with age. Pre-dominant gender: More common in male children than female children. Found equally among male and female adults. “Hay fever is really huge right now,” said Wal-Mart pharmacist Al Pearson. It’s just typical this time of year the number of allergy symptoms that are out there’the itchy, red eyes, runny noses and the coughs that go along with all the drainage. “When you look at your car and can only see yellow, that’s a good indication that allergens floating around out there. “You have to use a lot of caution when taking antihistamines. There are new prescriptions for antihistamines that don’t cause drowsiness. That’s another avenue for people who suffer from allergies to consider, however, it will need to be prescribed by a physician. “Around the middle of May a lot of people start to see some relief from allergy attacks when there aren’t quite as many inhalants out there. Of course, rag weed season starts around that time and unfortunately for some people, the cycle just starts all over again.” Pregnancy And Allergies Pregnant women should be aware that if they suffer from allergies, physiological changes that occur with pregnancy may aggravate their allergies. Some women report a decrease in airborne allergies during pregnancy, others report an increase, but about half notice no significant change. At the same time, many pregnant women experience allergy-like symptoms, especially nasal congestion and runny nose, even though they are not suffering from true allergies. This condition is called rhinitis of pregnancy. The symptoms may be intractable, particularly in the first trimester. Although the cause is unknown, it may be that pregnancy-associated hormones cause swelling of the mucus lining of the nose. Moreover, the fact that circulating blood volume rises to 40 percent above non-pregnant levels, there may be an indirect affect on airway resistance during pregnancy. Signs and symptoms seen more often: ‘ Nasal stuffiness and congestion ‘ Pale mucous membranes ‘ Sneezing ‘ Runny nose ‘ Watery eyes ‘ Plugged ears ‘ Scratchy throat ‘ Postnasal drip ‘ Itchy nose, eyes and ears Signs and symptoms seen less often: ‘ Nasal Polyps ‘ Dark circles under eyes ‘ Fatigue ‘ Voice change ‘ Irritating cough ‘ Loss or alteration of smell Airborne allergies result from plant and animal proteins–pollens from trees, grasses and weeds; molds; body parts and feces from cockroaches or dust mites; and animal dander, dried saliva and urine. Genetics appear to play a role in airborne allergies. Risk factors are a combination of hereditary factors and the environment. If one parent suffers from allergies, there is a 30 to 50 percent chance they will pass that tendency onto their child. If both parents suffer from allergies, the probability rises to 60 to 80 percent. Still, children may not necessarily end up with the same allergies as their parents. It appears that parents simply pass on overall sensitivity as opposed to specific sensitivity to an allergen. In fact, children from the same family may not get the same allergies. Studies show that with twins, one many suffer from allergies while the other may have absolutely no problem with them. For an allergy to develop, the child then needs to be exposed to an allergen. Children typically develop allergies to factors in their home environment such as molds, dust and pets. Later, once they spend more time outdoors, they will develop allergies to pollen from trees, weeds and grasses’typically in the spring or fall. An allergic reaction depends not only on the first introduction of the allergen, but also on other factors such as: repeated exposure, exposure to multiple agents at once, presence of non-airborne allergies (asthma, dermatitis), and use or non-use of prescribed medications.