Last spring, wildflowers blanketed the coastal California hills, coloring the landscape like tie-dye. It was a pleasing scene to observe from the window of my flight from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, but for many, it was an omen of suffering to come. Flash forward a few weeks later, I woke up barely able to breathe and made my way to the bathroom where I took four different medications to start my day.
The medication helps, but I can’t shake the deep fog from my head while my eyes itch so badly I am sometimes unable to read the whiteboard in class.
When I returned from class, I quickly opened and closed the door to my room, taking care to not let any pollen contaminate the carefully filtered air of my apartment. Despite the nine hours of sleep I got the previous night, I lied down to take a nap but was unable to slip into sleep. I shouldn’t have needed sleep, but I was exhausted. My life was a mess from the anguish of allergies.
Cal Poly: A hotspot for allergies
Seasonal pollen allergies aren’t seen as a debilitating condition, but some Cal Poly students would argue otherwise, due to Cal Poly’s diverse population of plant life.
“In the county of San Luis Obispo we have about 2000 species of native plants … it’s a lot. For instance, it’s more than the entire state of Alaska. We are in a biodiversity hotspot,” plant science professor Matt Ritter said.
The variety of plant life means a massive amount of airborne allergens. Many people who were never allergy-sufferers in the past find themselves developing symptoms after coming to Cal Poly.
“We get a variety [of] grasses blooming in the hills around us and they will bloom for five months. That’s a long blooming period, lots of pollen in the air and lots of opportunities for your immune system to get fired up,” Ritter said.
Those with particularly sensitive allergies will need to prepare for this spring, when pollen and plants will be in abundance due to the heavy rains from the winter.
“This year will be worse than the past few year because the drought over the past four or five years helped many allergy-sufferers. We are going to have a great spring with regards to amount of plant life. We are getting a ton of germination that we haven’t gotten in the past four or five years,” Ritter said.
How allergies work
Pollen allergies are the result of an immune response. According to biological sciences professor Candace Winstead, these reactions are triggered in order to fend off an attacking microbe or virus. But, sometimes the identification can misfire and be triggered by something benign, such as pollen.
While there are a huge variety of drugs available to treat allergy symptoms. However, not all are effective for everyone and some have side effects that are even worse than the symptoms of an allergy attack.
As a sufferer of allergies myself, many antihistamines are not effective for me. I’ve found that nasal steroid sprays are effective, but take 72 hours after the first dose to take effect. As a result, I have to suffer for three days between when allergies begin and the drug kicks in.
One other medication is effective, but lists “vivid nightmares” as a side effect, so I only use it when the allergies become unbearable.
Allergies: An excuse to miss class?
When allergies impede the quality of a student’s life, it brings to light the question of whether severe cases of allergies should be an excuse to miss class.
“When my allergies act up, I am totally incapacitated. I am constantly on the lookout for early warning signs my allergies are going to act up so I can ramp up my medication in case they coincide with midterms,” industrial technology junior Chris Tom said.
Tom also prepares for allergy season by making it a habit to wash his bedding often and to keep doors and windows to his bedroom closed. Minimizing contact with allergens at night can make a big difference in daytime symptoms.
“If you are suffering from a medical level of any condition [including allergies], that is an excuse to miss class,” Ritter said.
Being proactive and consistent with treating your allergies is crucial to preventing severe allergy attacks.
“The immune system can develop a feedback loop of inflammation … once the mucus membrane is inflamed, it is more susceptible to other conditions such as viral infection or sinusitis,” Winstead said. “If you can prevent the immune system from being inflamed in the first place, symptoms will be better in the long run.”
Starting a regular antihistamine routine before allergy symptoms begin can help keep your immune system from getting irritated. You can also contact the Health Center for a variety of discounted medication to proactively prepare for allergy season.