Morning Rounds: Fighting seasonal allergies

Fighting seasonal allergies

About 26 million people in the U.S. find themselves sneezing and wheezing every year as pollen counts rise.

Americans spent $2.7 billion last year on non-prescription allergy remedies.

Dr. Tara Narula joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss ways to combat seasonal allergies and what might be causing an increase in allergy sufferers.

Why do some people react to allergens and others don't?

"It's a complex interplay between genetics, your immune system and the environment. We're constantly scanning the environment for threats. People who have allergic disease, they detect a threat that the rest of us thinks is harmless. They mount an attack. They sound the alarm," Dr. Narula said.

Allergy survival guide: 10 tips from a top doctor
Allergy survival guide: 10 tips from a top doctor

Then, the body releases chemical messengers like histamine, which "causes a sneeze reflex to expel the allergen, it dilates the blood vessels which causes congestion and it also stimulates your glands which causes mucus to form."

All this misery is a byproduct of the body trying to get rid of what it thinks is an intruder. Some say that the increase in allergy sufferers is related to our modern environments being "too clean" — a theory called the "hygiene hypothesis." 

"When you're born, your immune system is weak," Narula explained. "You need to train it, educate it, build it like you would strength and muscles. You do that by fighting off pathogens that are real. If you don't get that experience it is possible that your immune system becomes misdirected, disregulated, so that basically you attack things that resemble harmful things."

To combat allergy symptoms as an adult, in addition to allergy shots and medicines, experts advise steps like staying indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., showering and washing your clothes to remove allergens like pollen, wearing sunglasses and a hat outdoors, closing windows, leaving shoes outside, and keeping pets clean so they don't track allergens through the house.