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Good Question: Why Do Our Allergies Make Us Feel So Terrible?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – After our cold winter, experts are calling this spring a particularly bad season for allergy sufferers. All of that sneezing, itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and congestion can make for a miserable couple of months.

“Currently my eyes are feeling a bit tortured,” said Darci Gabriel. “If I wasn’t on meds, I’d be an absolute mess right now.”

So, why do our allergies make us feel so terrible?

“Basically, an allergy is an overreaction of the body,” said Dr. Pramod Kelkar, an allergist with Allina Health Clinic. “It thinks that pollen is a foreign invader, and that’s why it’s overreacting.”

When the immune system of an allergy sufferer detects pollen (or grass, pet dander, dust mites, etc.), it triggers an inflammatory chemical called histamine.

“That inflammation causes mucous, drainage, sneezing, congestion, stuffy nose, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, and we get typical symptoms of allergies,” Kelkar said.

The histamine also causes blood vessels to dilate and tissues in the nose to swell. Congestion is caused by the engorgement of the blood, because whenever there is inflammation, the body’s reaction is to get more blood supply there to tackle the inflammation.

The histamine also brings on more mucous, Kelkar says.

“Possibly, there is some natural defense mechanism of the body, because there is more mucous, we are trying to get rid of the allergen by producing more mucous, by sneezing,” he said.

Much of the current allergy medication on the market works by trying to block the production of the histamine.

As for why allergies appear to come on so violently in the spring? We haven’t been exposed to pollen throughout much of the winter and, unlike dog or cat allergies that are easier to avoid, it’s hard to avoid pollen in the spring.

“It’s very difficult to get rid of the pollen in the environment,” Kelkar said. “That’s the reason people are focused on pollen rather than other allergens.”

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