TECH & SCI­ENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - FRONT PAGE - with CHRIS

AS I sit writ­ing this ar­ti­cle, my eyes are itchy, my nose doesn’t know whether it’s running or con­gested, and I’m hon­estly pretty tired after sev­eral sneez­ing fits through­out the day. I’m in the mid­dle of mov­ing house, you see, and be­tween the dust bun­nies that took up res­i­dence be­neath the fridge, and the ac­cursed flora that de­cides to spawn and spread its foul, evil pollen every­where dur­ing Spring, my im­mune sys­tem is hav­ing a melt­down and is in­tent on oblit­er­at­ing - with ex­treme prej­u­dice - ev­ery tiny for­eign sub­stance that en­ters my body. The whole process is ex­haust­ing - as those of you who suf­fer from hayfever can at­test to. That’s why this week, I thought I’d dive in and find out ex­actly what is go­ing on inside our bod­ies when we suf­fer from hayfever.

What is hayfever?

The first thing to note about hayfever is that it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily trig­gered by ex­po­sure to hay, and it usu­ally doesn’t re­sult in a fever. The con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the name arose in the 1800’s when the symp­toms were mis­at­tributed to the scent of fresh cut hay. This likely arose due to the fact that farmers of­ten cut hay around the same time of year that the ma­jor­ity of pollen is float­ing around in the air. The proper term for the con­di­tion is ac­tu­ally ‘al­ler­gic rhini­tis’, which ba­si­cally means in­flam­ma­tion and ir­ri­ta­tion of the mu­cous mem­brane in the nose. The al­ler­gic re­sponse to pollen is sim­i­lar to that of dust and cat hair, or, as I like to call them, ‘the Devil’s Tri­fecta’. When pollen first en­ters your body, it’s im­me­di­ately met with the ‘se­cu­rity guard’ of your body - the ‘anti­gen pre­sent­ing cell’. This cell en­gulfs the pollen, push­ing small pieces of it out onto its own sur­face. This is a vi­tal step as other im­mune cells can’t de­tect for­eign in­vaders and rely on the anti­gen pre­sent­ing cell to sig­nal the warn­ing and make the for­eign in­vader vis­i­ble to them. One cell in par­tic­u­lar, the T-cell, will alert even more im­mune cells once the anti­gen pre­sent­ing cell has en­gulfed the for­eign body. The most im­por­tant cell to be alerted is the B-cell, which, once hear­ing of a for­eign in­vader, will be­gin pro­duc­ing large amounts of an­ti­bod­ies called im­munoglob­u­lin E. The an­ti­bod­ies will then dis­perse into the blood and at­tach them­selves to two more types of im­mune cells - mast cells and ba­sophils. When the al­ler­gen next en­ters your body, an­ti­bod­ies on the mast cells and ba­sophils will catch the al­ler­gens, mak­ing them stick to the im­mune cells. When this hap­pens, the mast cells and ba­sophils will un­dergo a process called de­gran­u­la­tion, where they re­lease large amounts of chem­i­cal com­pounds known as his­tamines. Th­ese chem­i­cals trig­ger the di­la­tion of ves­sels in your nose and heavy mu­cous se­cre­tion re­sult­ing in a runny nose, sneez­ing and con­ges­tion.

Why does hayfever oc­cur?

In a nor­mal im­mune re­sponse, where the for­eign in­vader is ac­tu­ally dan­ger­ous, this process is vi­tally im­por­tant in pro­tect­ing our body from bad ill­nesses and dis­eases. It is the ground­work that al­lows the rest of the im­mune sys­tem to get to the in­fec­tion quickly while they are caught by the mast cells and ba­sophils, and re­pair any dam­age to the body. In a hayfever suf­ferer, the im­mune sys­tem is sim­ply over­re­act­ing to a in­nocu­ous in­vader, such as dust par­ti­cles or pollen, re­sult­ing in frus­trat­ing symp­toms that, in essence, make you feel un­well even when you re­ally aren’t. While sci­en­tist still haven’t re­ally got­ten to the bot­tom of why some peo­ple suf­fer from hayfever while oth­ers do not, some re­searchers have hy­poth­e­sised that it is due to over sani­tised en­vi­ron­ments, pol­lu­tion, or po­ten­tially vi­ta­min D de­fi­cien­cies in child­hood. As some­one who has con­tended with this con­di­tion their whole life, I’m in­clined to be­lieve it’s a com­bi­na­tion of all three of those hy­pothe­ses.

What are an­ti­his­tamines?

One way to con­tend with the symp­toms of hayfever is to take an an­ti­his­tamine. An an­ti­his­tamine, as they per­tain specif­i­cally to al­ler­gic re­ac­tions, neu­tralise the ef­fect of the his­tamines re­leased by the mast cells and ba­sophils. No his­tamines, no di­la­tion of ves­sels in the nose - no mu­cus, sneez­ing and itch­ing. Okay dear al­lergy suf­ferer, now that we’ve dived deep into the cause and ef­fect of hayfever, do you feel any bet­ter? No, I can’t say I do ei­ther. Bring on win­ter.

AH-CHOO: An ap­prox­i­mate diagram of an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to pollen.

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