Nothing to Sneeze At

woman blowing nose outdoors
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Is it your imagination, or do the congestion, coughing and other symptoms that go along with nasal and respiratory allergies seem to be affecting more people every year—and for longer periods? With so many allergy sufferers appearing symptomatic from January through December, you might wonder whether the term “seasonal allergies” has become obsolete.

An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Some exhibit allergic reactions to ingested foods or drugs, and some to skin contact with substances such as latex or certain plants. But the primary allergies in most people are referred to as “indoor/outdoor,” meaning that their immune system reacts to a protein substance, or allergen, in their environment that is breathed in or touched.

And allergens abound. “There are trees in spring, grass in summer, weeds in fall, and year-round dust mites and animal dander,” explains Dr. Nkiruka Erekosima, allergist/immunologist at Johns Hopkins Hospitals and Medical Centers, Baltimore, Maryland. And, according to Erekosima, the increased suffering is not imagined. “With climate changes and global warming, pollens last longer than they used to,” she confirms. “Pollen counts stay high, and patients suffer more and worse symptoms.”

Where do you come in? Although prescription medications, over-the-counter preparations and age-old home remedies—sometimes in regimented combinations—provide relief, your spa services and retail products can still do much to help clients who suffer from this nagging medical problem.

The Ins and Outs

Indoor/outdoor allergy sufferers experience seemingly endless congestion and runny nose, and it doesn’t stop there: They may have sinus pain and inflammation, red and itchy eyes, sore and scratchy throats, ear pain and coughs. Allergies can lead to wheezing and breathing problems including extrinsic asthma, a condition in which the airways become blocked. Asthma, in turn, can cause chest pain, shortness of breath and even fatigue.

While allergies can strike anyone at any time, there is a genetic predisposition. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation reports that if one of a child’s parents has allergies, the chances are one in three that the child will have allergies as well. If both parents have the condition, that chance increases to seven in 10. And although allergies are most likely to develop in childhood, the symptoms may not present until later in life, or during times when exposure to the allergens is higher.

Geographical location can also contribute to nasal and respiratory allergies. “Allergens are often present in areas with high humidity,” says Erekosima. “For example, dust mites grow when there is more water content in the air. They don’t grow in dry climates.”

Although there is no “cure” for allergies, they can go into remission—unfortunately, they can also return with no warning.