It's allergy season...every season

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Seasonal and skin allergies provide year-round misery for over 50 million Americans. Although people in many areas of the U.S. have a brief winter reprieve from spring and fall pollen woes, some just keep on sneezing. Yearly, allergies are responsible for 3.5 million days of work lost and over 28 million days of restricted activity.

WHEN ALLERGIES GET UNDER YOUR SKIN
Allergies don't always cause a sneeze or a sniffle. Topical allergies, or allergies that appear on the skin, are marked by severely itchy red welts referred to as urticaria or more commonly, hives.

In most cases, urticaria is caused by the body's release of histamine when it comes in contact with an allergy-causing substance such as food or medication. Because hives are usually undetermined in origin and very difficult to diagnose, they pose one of the most complicated problems for physicians. Still, 10-20% of our population will have at least one episode of hives in their lifetime.

There are two types of urticaria. The first is acute urticaria, an isolated attack of hives that occurs once or twice in a person's lifetime. Chronic urticaria, however, occurs almost daily and lasts more than three to six weeks.

Among the many causes of chronic urticaria are foods such as chocolate, nuts, eggs, beans, strawberries and other fresh fruits, and fish as well as stress, temperature or pressure. Even though there is no cure, there is still hope for the 20 million itchy Americans that suffer from chronic urticaria. When these bothersome rashes appear, you can reduce the discomfort by avoiding the foods that cause you problems, bathing in lukewarm starch baths and reducing your use of perfumes and cosmetics.

FINDING THE CAUSE
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best treatment for hives is to find the cause and eliminate it. One way to assist your doctor in finding the origin of your outbreak is to create a detailed diary that charts your day-to-day activity, food intake, medications and schedule.

Logging all of your daily activities can help narrow down the cause of your unusually sudden breakouts. After reviewing your regimen and your family history including past and present treatments, your doctor can prescribe treatment that will help your system block the effect of the histamine that is causing the urticaria.

TREATMENT IS AVAILABLE
While investigating the source of discomfort, antihistamines may bring some much-needed relief. Over-the-counter antihistamines may be effective but may also cause drowsiness. This can impair driving skills and the ability to maintain an active lifestyle. Newer prescriptions are non-sedating and only need to be taken once-a-day and check out effective homeopathic remedies.

PHOTOS (BLACK & WHITE): Children with allergy

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By Kelley Plumeau

WHAT CAUSES HAY FEVER?
In allergy sufferers, wind-borne pollen causes the immune system to produce ImmunoglobulinE (IgE) antibodies to fend off these "foreign intruders." These IgE antibodies attach themselves to mast cells lining the nose, eyes and air passages. This causes the release of histamine which swells the nasal membrane and causes sneezing, nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes.

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