By Kevin Bryan
Spring is a time for nature’s renewal, bringing warming weather and blossoming plants. If you are a student with allergies, however, spring brings together two other things: Final Exams and Hay fever. Has the misery of allergy symptoms kept you from focusing in class, or worse, during an important test? It is possible that allergies are preventing you from doing your best work in school.
With allergic rhinitis (AR), normally harmless substances called allergens are seen by your immune system as intruders. Your body releases histamines in response to these allergens and result in a variety of symptoms, including a runny, stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy or sore throat. Many people with AR also have allergic reactions in their eyes called allergic conjunctivitis. AR is also associated with an increase in asthma symptoms. The most common culprit for all these responses is the increase of pollen carried through the air at different times in different parts of the country. The symptoms of AR, whether seasonal or year-round, may do more than make you miserable.
The “International Study for Asthma and Allergies in Childhood” showed that global averages for allergic rhinitis associated congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, sneezing, and itchy red eyes approached 8.5% for 6-7 year-olds and 14.6% for 13-14 year-olds. Poor sleep patterns in these children leads to “day-time fatigue”, distraction in school, and increased absenteeism. Allergic rhinitis also leads to changes in mood, including depression and irritability. In some areas of the world, the number of children affected approaches 50%, with a disproportionate effect to middle and lower income countries. Allergies are not, however, limited to poorer countries. One Swedish study showed a more direct link between allergies and grades. When pollen increases by 20 pollen grains per cubic meter, there is a 2.5% decrease in the average test scores for all students in that area of Sweden. The authors extrapolate that if only one in ten students have hay fever, then that student’s scores may drop a grade level or more.
In many areas of the United States spring allergies are linked to pollen from trees, including oak, poplar, ash and others. In other areas, grasses are a major factor. These are not just the grasses on lawns, but also the wild grasses that can be found along most roads and in pastures and fields. In the fall, ragweed is a major contributor to AR.
Self-medicating may not be the answer, as many over-the-counter medications contain antihistamines. Antihistamine based medications can have their own set of symptoms: drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, and restlessness (especially in children). If you have seasonal or persistent allergies that you feel are affecting your classroom performance, ask your family physician or seek advice from a specialist.