Sneezing. Itching. Coughing. These pestering symptoms are the uncomfortable reality for Carmel High School students who suffer from environmental allergies.
Allergies are hypersensitive immune responses to substances that either enter or come in contact with the body, such as pet dander, pollen, peanuts or bee venom. A substance that causes an allergic reaction is known as an “allergen,” which can be found in food, drinks, medicine and the environment. The average human encounters dozens of allergens each day.
This may seem dismal, but most allergens are harmless, and the majority of people are not affected by them. If you are allergic to a substance, such as pollen, your immune system reacts to it as if it were a pathogen (a harmful foreign substance) and tries to destroy it. Most symptoms include sneezing, coughing, watery or itchy eyes and sore throats.
“In our climate here, allergies can go year round,” CUSD nurse Susan Pierszalowski comments. “Pine, oak, and cypress trees, they all bloom. Rain has increased the growth of these trees, and the replacement of this rain with dry, hot days has caused a surge of blooming and pollen.”
Pollen is a particularly large allergy-related issue this time of year in the Carmel and Monterey area.
According to Pollen.com, weather plays a direct role in the severity and length of the allergy season. Weather conditions will increase the amount of pollen production to yield high pollen levels or decreased pollen production resulting in low pollen levels.A mild winter can signify an early allergy season, since trees tend to start pollinating earlier. Dry, windy weather spreads pollen quickly, producing a higher distribution of pollen and increasing allergy symptoms.
A pollen allergy actually means an allergic reaction to the fine powder that comes from the stamen of flowering plants. The more technical term for pollen allergy is actually hay fever, which is caused when pollen is dispersed through the air. Because pollen is a powder, it can be carried for great distances through air currents. It is also easily inhaled as it comes in contact with your nose, mouth and nasal passages.
“I am allergic to basically any type of pollen,” sophomore Kenshi Husted shares. “I have a really stuffy nose, red, itchy eyes, clogged throat and nose, and I can barely breathe. I usually take medicine to deal with it. Sometimes I really don’t even want to play lacrosse because of my condition physically and mentally when my allergies are bad.”
Junior Shay Lyon can relate.
“The pollen storm has heavily affected me,” Lyon says. “I have had to blow my nose pretty much constantly, along with itchy eyes, [making it] hard to focus on other things with these distractions. Allergies can be really frustrating, to randomly get allergic, when I’m driving, taking a test or playing sports.”
Asthma, a chronic reactive airway disease, is a weightier allergy issue on campus. In response to exercise or allergen exposure, asthma causes narrowing of the airways. Try breathing through a straw to sympathize.
Nationwide, asthma affects more than 17 million adults and more than 7 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
On the CHS campus, Pierszalowski points out that there are 80 students diagnosed with asthma of varying degrees.
“Most carry their own inhalers,” the nurse says. “Pollen exacerbates this issue as it irritates airways and initiates asthma attacks. Numerous students have been excused from physical education due to asthma, as they cannot exercise outdoors with the heavy pollen concentration.”
Junior Mikey Fletcher seasonally battles this unfortunate combination.
“Pollen irritates my throat when I am exercising, and makes me more prone to asthma attacks,” he says.
Asthma is prevalent but not life-threatening. Pierszalowski explains that still more severe allergy cases, potentially deadly or anaphylactic, also lurk on the CHS campus.
Lyon’s pollen allergy is merely a nuisance. However, his food allergies could potentially kill him. His hypersensitive reactions to almonds, peanuts, cashews, fish, crab and shrimp require emergency intervention.
“There are 18 students with Epipens,” Pierszalowski notes, “which are only used in the case of very serious, anaphylactic reactions, usually to things like bee stings or foods.”
An Epipen is a pen-like device that emergently delivers life-saving Epinephrine via intramuscular injection. Epinephrine reverses the anaphylactic closure of airways.
Junior Matthew Small, who is deathly allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, milk and several other everyday foods, never leaves home without his Epipen.
“I have learned to really be careful around everything I touch,” Small says. “I could have a reaction if I even touch something that has touched peanut butter, for example.”
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, about 55 percent of the U.S. population tests positive to one or more allergens. This is an increasing trend, as 10 percent more children (under 18) suffer from allergies than adults, showcasing an increasing trend in vulnerability.
According to WebMD, one estimate of the annual cost of allergies to the health care system and businesses in the US is $7.9 billion, in addition to 4 million workdays lost each year due to hay fever, or pollen allergies, alone.
Clearly, there is more to that yellow stuff on your windshield than meets the eye.