Like pollens that can spread quickly through the air, myths about seasonal allergies also seem to circulate widely.
"I hear allergy myths all the time," said Dr. John Costa, medical director of the Brigham and Women's Hospital Allergy and Clinical Immunology Practice in Boston.
To clear the air of these common misconceptions, here are nine allergy myths that may be making the rounds.
Myth: Everybody has allergies. Only one in five Americans has allergic rhinitis, which in spring is also known as "rose fever" and in fall is called "hay fever," Costa said. While there has been a rise in the incidence of seasonal and food allergies in the United States over the last 20 to 30 years, people who don't have any allergies don't really worry about getting them, he said. And they often have no clue how miserable people with seasonal allergies feel, Costa said.
Myth: If you didn't have seasonal allergies as a child, you won't develop them as an adult. The body comes in contact with new things all the time, and can become highly allergic to them at any time. There is nothing innately harmful about tree pollen, for example, but some people's immune systems look at tree pollens and say, 'I'm going to have a reaction to this,' Costa said. "If you didn't have allergies as a kid, it can happen to you as an adult," he said. "If you had them as a kid, allergies can gradually and unpredictably go away."
Myth: Eating local honey helps relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. It's true that bees collect pollen from plants, Costa said, and honey has pollens in it from the local area. But, he said, the wind-carried pollens from trees, grasses and weeds that cause seasonal allergies are very light and stay airborne for a long time. The pollen in bee honey comes from flowers, and is very heavy and falls to the ground. "They are the wrong kind of pollens for causing seasonal allergies," Costa said.
Myth: Scientists can accurately predict a bad pollen season. "Predictions about pollen seasons are disingenuous," Costa said, and he refrains from making them. For example, only when forecasters can predict a great number of dry days in a row without any rain (such as a severe drought), can pollen predictions be made. During that time, nothing is growing, so pollen can be ruled out, he explained. "Short of severe climactic change, it's hard to say anything meaningful about pollen season," Costa said.
Myth: Moving to a different geographic area could ease seasonal allergies. "Moving is of little benefit to the seasonal allergy sufferer," Costa said, because pollens are actually shared over large areas. Ragweed in New England is the same as ragweed in Texas, and people who are allergic to grass pollen may just be miserable everywhere, because this type of pollen is incredibly cross-reactive, he said. [8 Strange Signs You're Having an Allergic Reaction]