United States

Fall Allergies in Montana

Montana, famous for its tall mountains and plentiful clear rivers, may seem like an allergy-free region. However, no region in the United States is exempt from hosting certain allergens.

Types of allergens, especially pollen, differ during certain times of the year. During the fall, Montana residents and visitors who are sensitive to certain types of pollen may experience an array of symptoms. Allergies are treatable once you have identified what you are sensitive to.

Causes

Fall allergies in Montana primarily consist of grass and weed pollen. Weeds pollinate through October, while grasses pollinate through November. When released into the air, pollen is carried and distributed by the fall’s windy conditions. The website Distinctly Montana reports that air pollution is another leading cause of allergies. Air pollution is a combination of gasses from automobiles, controlled wood burnings and forest fires.

Types

Grasses and weeds pollinate in the spring time, but continue to release pollen well into the fall months. According to Allergy Escape, grasses indigenous to Montana include Bermuda, Timothy, orchard, wild oat, rye, Johnson, red top, brome and meadow fescue. Weed allergies in Montana are attributed to ragweed, tumbleweed, pigweed, yellow dock, sagebrush, English plantain, careless weed, kochia, scales, cocklebur, marsh elder and lambsquarter.

Symptoms

A pollen allergy is also referred to as hay fever.

Symptoms of a hay fever include sneezing, sinus headache, post nasal drip, dark under-eye circles, itchy eyes, conjunctivitis, itchy throat and fatigue. Severe hay fever can contribute to allergic asthma. Allergic asthma occurs when certain allergens aggravate the linings of your lungs, causing the bronchial tubes to inflame and constrict. In such a case, you may wheeze and experience shortness of breath as well as coughing.

Prevention/Solution

Preventing your exposure to allergens during the fall in Montana can ease your symptoms. Stay indoors as often as possible, especially while exercising. Allergy Escape recommends that you especially do not venture outdoors between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 am. Although the fall Montana air may seem cool and inviting, avoid the temptation to open your windows. Once you expose your home to the open air, you will inadvertently invite pollen spores and air pollutants inside. Also dry your clothing indoors and shower regularly in order to rid your body of allergens. If you plan on visiting Montana during the autumn months, ask your doctor if you need to take any medications with you.

Medications

Medications are a viable solution if preventive measures do not ease your allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, help your body block histamine release, thereby reducing symptoms in the first place. Such medications are taken daily, or on an as-needed basis, as long as your doctor consents. Decongestants relieve nasal and sinus congestion. If over-the-counter medications do not help, see your doctor for a prescription. If you do not respond to daily medications, allergy shots are another solution for symptom relief. According to Allergy Escape, allergy shots help you build a tolerance to certain allergens, thereby reducing the need for medications in the future.

Common Plant Allergies

Fotolia.com”> People with grass allergies should cut it before it begins to flower. grass image by ana malin from Fotolia.com

According to Mary Predny at the Virginia Cooperative Extension, common plant allergens include grasses, weeds and trees. Some plants trigger allergic reactions because their pollen is easily inhaled. Airborne pollen is light enough to stay aloft for several days, traveling hundreds of miles, according to the Allergy Relief Center.

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac cause allergic reaction through physical contact with their plant sap. Gardening tools, clothing, shoes and pet fur may transfer plant sap, so you can react even if you never touched the plant.

Grasses

Fotolia.com”> Bermuda grass causes allergies in some sensitive individuals. grass image by palms from Fotolia.com

Grasses that cause the most allergies include Bermuda, Orchard, Johnson, Rye, Timothy, Redtop and Kentucky bluegrass, according to Plantcare.com. Rye and Timothy grass allergies are most commonly referred to as hay fever because they typically occur during haying season.

Grass pollinates during the late spring and summer. Cutting the grass before it flowers can cut down on grass allergies. You can also wear a breathing mask when cutting the grass or when the air is dry and windy to help stave off allergy flare ups.

Trees

Fotolia.com”> Pollen from the cottonwood trees can make it appear to snow in the spring. rattlertree image by Igor Zhorov from Fotolia.com

Most trees pollinate in early spring, but if the winter is mild, they may begin pollinating in late January in the southern United States, according to the Allergy Relief Center. Cottonwoods, oaks, mulberries, maples and pecans are the trees most likely to cause allergic reaction in the spring. Furs, junipers, cypress and sequoias flower in the fall and early winter, according to Mary Predny. Fresh cut evergreens, Christmas trees and holiday trims may cause issues for holiday shoppers who are sensitive to these trees.

Ragweed

Fotolia.com”> People who are sensitive to ragweed may also be sensitive to canteloupe and bananas. canteloupe melon image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com

Ragweeds cause allergies in 75 percent of Americans with pollen sensitivities according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). There are 17 varieties in the U.S. and they pollinate in the summer and early fall. In the southern U.S., ragweed season may begin in September and last until the first hard freeze, which may not happen until late December or early January.

One ragweed plant can produce up to one billion grains of pollen. The pollen counts are typically highest in rural areas just after dawn and between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in urban areas. People who are sensitive to ragweed may also be sensitive to sage, cantaloupe and bananas. Consuming chamomile tea, sunflower seeds and honey can lead to allergic reaction and shock in sensitive individuals.

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Fotolia.com”> Never burn poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. poison ivy image by Predrag Marcikic from Fotolia.com

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac sap is called urushiol. Urushiol is very irritating and is found in every part of the plant, according to WebMed. The sap continues to be active after the plant dies. People build up a sensitivity to urushiol and each subsequent exposure causes the reaction to intensify. WebMD warns that you should not burn these plants because the sap can become airborne in the smoke and ash from the fire. Inhaled urushiol can cause serious and severe reactions in the respiratory system.

Bargain Remedy for Allergy

Since early 2009, the media & medical community have discussed and addressed several issues getting the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine. They’ve addressed people’s worries about the effects of the vaccine. They’ve addressed the importance of getting the vaccine, especially for certain individuals such as pregnant women, asthmatics, the elderly and others who would have a harder time fighting off the Swine Flu if they were to become infected. But there is one issue that hasn’t been addressed by the media & medical community– options for individuals who want the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine, but cannot get it because of an egg allergy. In fact, I have only seen this issue addressed by other egg-allergic people with the same concern. And so, I’ve created this lens to address this issue and to help other people with egg allergies find the resources they need to gain access to the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine.

H1N1 red text image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Why An Egg Allergy Is An Issue With the H1N1 / Swine Flu Vaccine (and Other Vaccines)

Most (if not all) vaccines are grown inside of chicken eggs. Therefore, the vaccines will have egg in them as well. Individuals with egg allergies can have mild to severe reactions to vaccines as a result. This is why when the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine was made available to the public, health officials stated that people with egg allergies would likely not be able to get the vaccine, or would need to take extra special precautions. They also did not want to be held responsible if an egg-allergic individual did have any kind of reaction to the vaccine.

Photo courtesy of photo search Public Health Image Library – PHIL (Phil.CDC.gov). To view a larger version of the photo, click on photo.

My Experience (As A Person With Asthma AND An Egg Allergy)

I have had asthma my entire life. And as you might have heard from news reports, asthmatics were among one of the several high-risk categories of people who could be more severly effected if they caught Swine Flu / H1N1. Any cold an asthmatic gets can affect their already weakened lung function by moving mucus into their lungs, making it even more difficult to breathe. I’ve had this happen often with colds, more so when I was younger.

So you can imagine that this put me, along with other asthmatics, on alert. I wanted to get the vaccine so I would have one less sickness to worry about. However, I knew I’d have some difficulty getting the shot because of my moderate egg allergy. But I had nooooo idea it would be as difficult as it was.

I called several drug stores offering the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine. But as soon as I mentioned my egg allergy, they said they couldn’t give me the vaccine. The same went for my local health department, who were offering public clinics for people to get the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine.

And so I went to my local allergist’s office and asked to be allergy tested for the vaccine. I don’t know specifics, but they prick a person with a miniscule amount of the vaccine (with some aspect of it taken out). Then they can tell how allergic that person is to the vaccine based on how swollen they get in that area. I wasn’t very swollen at all, and so my allergist cleared me for the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine. I could have gotten it the same day, but I didn’t have my form that the health department required for all individuals receiving the vaccine. So I went ahead and got my seasonal flu vaccine, and was told I would have to wait a month between vaccines so that my body wouldn’t confuse the two. I also had my allergist write me a note saying that it was okay for me to get the vaccine, as I had been getting seasonal flu vaccines since I was small.

I did wait a month before scheduling an appointment again with my local health department. However, even with the doctor’s note, I was still being denied the vaccine. I called back my allergist’s office, figuring they were the only place willing to giving me the shot because they’re equipped to take care of any individual if they have a reaction to a vaccine. However, they were now out of the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine and weren’t getting anymore in.

So, I called back the health department and asked if they would be willing to send a vial of the vaccine to my allergist office. They could not, but only because they were in a different county (I live in a county north of my allergist’s office). They suggested that I ask the health department in that county. So I did call the other health department and asked them the same thing. They said if no one from the office was willing to come and pick up the vial themselves, they’d be willing to drop off the vaccine vial at my doctor’s office. And so finally, about a week later, I received my H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine (and thankfully, I had no reaction to the shot).

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How A Person With An Egg Allergy Can STILL Get the H1N1 / Swine Flu Vaccine (based on my experience)

I was able to get the H1N1 / Swine Flu shot for two main reasons. First, my egg allergy isn’t severe, it’s moderate. Someone with a severe egg allergy would have a reaction to eggs even in small doses. (I have moderate reactions to eggs in small doses, but still make it a habit not to eat eggs or anything with eggs in them.) Secondly, I was very persistent and resourceful in finding a way to get the vaccine. So if you or someone you know has an egg allergy and wants to get the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine but hasn’t yet, you most likely still can.

If you’ve had seasonal flu shots in recent years and haven’t had a reaction, you likely won’t have a reaction to the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine. However, if you’ve never had seasonal flu shots, haven’t taken them in recent years, or you just want to be sure you won’t have a bad reaction to the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine, you can get allergy testing done just like I did. Find a local allergist’s office to schedule allergy testing. A nurse (or possibly a doctor) will extract a small amount of the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine and prick your arm with it. Based on how swollen your arm becomes in the area that was pricked, the allergist can tell you whether or not you are allergic to the vaccine. You will either be cleared to get the shot, receive the shot in a few doses instead of all at once, or you won’t be able to get the vaccine at all.

If you can get H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine, but it’s not available at your local allergist’s office, ask if they will administer the shot if it’s sent to the office by the local health department, or if someone in the office would be willing to pick up a vial from health department. Then call your local health department, tell them your situation (nicely), and ask if someone can pick up the vial or if a vial of the vaccine can be sent to the allergist’s office so the shot can be administered in a controlled environment.

Photo courtesy of photo search Public Health Image Library – PHIL (Phil.CDC.gov). To view a larger version of the photo, click on photo.

What To Do If You STILL Can’t Get the H1N1 / Swine Flu Vaccine Because of An Egg Allergy

If you cannot find an allergist’s office near you, or you get allergy tested for the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine and have a bad reaction to it, you clearly won’t be able to get the current version of the vaccine. But you are not entirely out of options.

New Versions of the H1N1 / Swine Flu Vaccine
There are two companies– FluGen, Inc. & Novartis– who are working on other ways to grow the vaccine. From this online article:

“Newer methods for flu vaccine are on the horizon. Advances in molecular technology have allowed the creation of a flu vaccine that would be safe for those with an egg allergy. FluGen, Inc. recently announced a cell-based production of flu vaccine that doesn’t use egg in any part of the process. The company hopes to ramp up production and have vaccine ready “in the very near future.” This cell-based process would save weeks in manufacture time and is less likely to become contaminated.

Another pharmaceutical company, Novartis, also claims to be close to being able to offer a cell-based vaccine.”

In other words, vaccines will be grown without using eggs, and if successful, will be made available to the public. However, if you are waiting to get the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine but you have any kind of animal allergies, beware. According to another online article on MedicalNewsToday.com, the method that FluGen is using is a CHO-based system to grow the vaccine. And CHO stands for… Chinese hamster ovaries. Yes, really. Read this press release for more information on that.

Meanwhile, I’ve emailed both FluGen and Novartis about their upcoming vaccines.

FluGen’s response: “I’ve heard from many egg allergic people like you in the last several months. FDA approved flu vaccine is produced using chicken eggs. Unfortunately, FluGen is still 2-3 years away from FDA approval for our cell based (egg-free) flu vaccine, which we believe is faster and cleaner than the current method of introducing flu virus into chicken eggs for vaccine production. I’m sorry we cannot help you at this time.”

Novartis’ response: “In order to respond to your request we will need the following information:
Country in which you reside:
Are you a healthcare professional?”

I told them I’m in the U.S. and that I am not a healthcare professional, and they sent me a pdf document/letter stating the following:

“Thank you for your interest in, and request for information regarding availability of Celtura (their drug) in the United States. Please note, Celtura is not approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. It is currently approved for use in Germany
and Switzerland. It is unknown, at this time, when there will be a cell culture based influenza vaccine approved for use in the United States.”

I sent my emails out in October 2009, so perhaps there have been new developments. I do believe that others with egg-allergy concerns about the H1N1 / Swine Flu vaccine should email both FluGen & Novartis as I did, as well as news media. If enough people contact local news stations & send emails with the same concerns, and they do it more than once (not non-stop, but consistently every 1-2 months), the companies will take notice of this and so will the media, which might move things along and finally put a spotlight on this issue, creating some progress.

What to Do In Lieu of Getting of the H1N1 / Swine Flu Vaccine
Until a vaccine without egg protein in it is available, the usual precautions apply. Wash your hands frequently. Make it a habit not to touch your face (except to wipe or wash it). Avoid people who are sick. When you’re out in public, use hand sanitizer and disenfectant wipes to clean shopping carts & baskets before use (and after use, if you want to keep the next person from getting sick). Drink warm liquids such as water, tea or coffee (this kills off potential germs). And eat foods high in vitamin C.

You can also avoid the H1N1 virus / Swine Flu 2 other ways. Several sources have stated that gargling twice a day with warm salt water or Listerine prevents the virus from building up. The H1N1 virus / Swine Flu takes 2-3 days after initial infection to build up in the throat and or nasal cavity, before any symptoms show up. Gargling with salt water is supposed to have a similar effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu or Relenza would have on an infected one. Cleaning your nostrils with cotton swabs or q-tips at least once every day with warm salt water also keeps the virus from building up.