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Your Brain and Allergies

By Olivia Harlow

For many of us, springtime is synonymous with Allergy Season. In fact, more than 50 million Americans experience the allergy blues each year. Our eyes water, our noses stuff up, and our faces itch and swell. Benadryl becomes our new best friend, and nose-blowing and sneezing become the new normal. We hear “Bless You” more times than we can count, and we’re constantly asked if something tragic happened, given the crusty tears in our eyes.

While friends and family are Oohing and Aahing over flowering blooms and warming temps, we find ourselves cursing the month of April for inflicting such misery among our sinuses. But, why does this happen? And what can we do about it?


What Causes Allergies?

Many people suffer from year-round allergies. Some have allergic reactions to certain foods, while others can’t be in the presence of a cat. In general, any particles that the body considers foreign—i.e. dust or nuts or kitty dandruff—will be confronted accordingly. The body’s response to these particles unfortunately results in the discomfort of an allergic reaction. While our bodies are trying to protect us, they end up causing haywire (and literal hay fever).


The Science Behind Your Symptoms

For those of us with seasonal allergies, our bodies aren’t familiarized with the pollens released from April flowers, trees, and weeds. Grasses and plants release tiny particles into the air to fertilize other plants at the start of spring, and when the immune system first encounters these pollens, it releases antibodies to attack them. The antibodies attach to the allergens and then travel to mast cells located in body tissue—mainly the mucus membranes in our nose. Here, the antibodies secrete chemicals meant to flush out the allergens

One of the chemicals released is histamine, which constricts airways and expands vessels to increase fluid flow, therefore making it difficult to breathe. Another chemical is leukotriene, which causes an excess of discharge—i.e. the snot waterfall coming from our nose.


A Fuzzy Brain

In addition to these normal symptoms, many people who suffer from allergies also complain of feeling “fuzzy”—like our brains just don’t work quite the same. Well, according to a recent New York Times article, “allergy brain” is very real. The inflammation in our sinuses—caused by the chemicals mentioned above—then triggers the immune system to release proteins called cytokines. (This also happens when you get a cold.) The cytokines are meant to fight infection, but they also disable optimal performance. According to doctors, these proteins cause thoughts to seem foggy and performance to weaken.


Where You Live Matters

One interesting thing to note is that your geographic location can alter these symptoms. Pollen travels miles and miles, so it’s not just your backyard tulips that are to blame. But, where you live does make a difference.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranks Jackson, Mississippi as the worst place to live if you have seasonal allergies—followed by Memphis, Tennessee; McAllen, Texas; and Louisville, Kentucky.

Normally, central states are a meeting place for various pollens. And places with longer growing seasons have longer allergy periods. Mountainous areas, especially in the South, undergo long-term impact, due to their large population of pollinating trees. Weather and general environment also play roles. Temperature, humidity, and wind increase allergen count and their ability to spread. So, places with all of these factors combined are undoubtedly the foulest for those with allergies.

All of this said, don’t pack your bags and run away! Instead, learn how you can best fight off Allergy Season blues.

The “Cure”

While there isn’t really a cure for allergies, there are ways to alleviate symptoms. By taking medications to ease congestion, all other symptoms—including that fuzzy brain that makes it hard to function—will also lessen.

Some other tips include staying indoors on especially windy days; adding more Omega-3 fats to your diet, to reduce inflammation; rubbing eucalyptus oil on your temples and beneath your nose to naturally clear airways and break up mucus; exercising in the evening instead of the morning, since pollen counts are highest earlier in the day; leaving your shoes and outer layers outside of your home, and doing laundry regularly; keeping your windows closed; and avoiding yard work for a while (having an overgrown yard for a bit isn’t the end of the world!).

And if these methods don’t help, you’ll just have to carry around a tissue box and prepare to show the public your crusty, Rudolf-tinted nose, take pride in your blood shot eyes, and blow your nose without shame! If you’re going to sneeze regardless, you might as well join in and smell the roses!

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