What causes allergies?

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
April 30, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
Are your eyes watering and your nose running? If so, you probably know it's allergy season. But do you know exactly what it is that you're allergic to?Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

People who suffer from allergies might think their symptoms are from just springtime pollen. But the story is much detailed than that. And to show you why, we took a trip to northern New Jersey Thursday morning.

The yellow spot is the culprit, the newest arrival in a season of misery. The pollen factory is a birch tree.

The birch pollen cloud is dense, a 30 percent increase this year, say the experts. There was a thick and slightly ominous coating on one home deck we saw.

Could this be why you are suffering now?

"People who are complaining this instant, without even a skin test, I can tell you it's going to be birch pollen," UMDNJ Dr. Leonard Bielory said. "We're seeing thousands of grains of pollen per cubic meter. It's huge."

Dr. Bielory and his colleagues were scrutinizing the offending allergens Thursday morning, teaching the ropes to the young doctors who will be treating us in a few years.

The new doctors are fellows at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. They were in Bergen County, learning that those same allergens will be offending their friends in New York.

"Remember, the allergies are caused by wind-blown pollens," Dr. Michael Mattikow said. "These are very light. They will travel up to 10,000 feet. They will travel for miles. You can't get rid of it."

But you can be careful not to track it indoors or pick it up from your pets. Stay indoors when it's the heaviest.

"If you can use local medications, and if that doesn't work, allergy desensitization," Dr. Bielory said.

Desensitization, meaning allergy shots, made from the particular allergen that offends you.

Drug companies collect the pollen to make the shots, from trees now and from grasses in May and June.

One weed, called pao or june grass, is ubiquitous and just starting to bloom.

But trouble was already at hand for one of the fellows. Dr. Anita Shrikhande learned her lesson very personally.

"Right now, I'm having a runny nose, sneezing and my eyes are starting to itch a bit," she said.

Maybe a birch pollen allergy? Among other things, it is usually more than one kind of tree.

Dr. Bielory says history is 80 percent of the diagnoses, so be aware of when your symptoms start. If local medications don't work, a skin test can determine the allergy shots for you.

Allergies can turn into asthma, so they're discomforting and could be seriously damaging to your well being.

For more information on allergies, click here.

To find out how you should treat your allergies, click here.