Coping With Spring Allergies

November 12, 2012

Coping With Spring Allergies

The condition commonly known as hay fever has a medical name of seasonal allergic rhinitis. It is a condition which is frequently, although not exclusively, triggered by pollen. And the trouble with pollen in the springtime and early summer is that it is in abundance just about everywhere you go.

If you are a hay fever sufferer then the thought of a walk in the park or a picnic does not fill you with joy. And when people say ‘fresh air‘ you wonder what they are talking about. Being outside will bring on some or all of the following symptoms; sniffles, sneezes, sore, red eyes and itchiness in the nose and eyes.

Bradley Becker, MD, is a professor of pediatrics at the St. Louis University School of Medicine and a doctor at the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. He is also an expert on allergens and a member of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. He explains that from mid February onwards different plants and tress start to produce pollen. Trees start first in early spring and then grasses do their bit into early summer and then weeds are prolific in late summer.

The types of pollen and when it is present depends on geography. In cooler more northern climes the foliage is different to southern warmer areas. In the south pollens appear earlier in the year but in the colder areas it may be 2 or 3 months later before people notice them.

Although you are affected by pollens there are a number of actions that you can take to help yourself cope. Try some of the over the counter remedies, available at any pharmacist. Maybe going to an allergist is the answer for you. Learn about allergens and from the knowledge you gain, avoid places which you know will be high in pollen. Learn how to reduce the amount of pollen around you. For example, have a shower when you get home, keep your windows and doors closed and put any clothes that you were wearing outside straight into the washing machine as they will be impregnated with pollen.

If symptoms are severe then allergy shots or immunotherapy may be the answer.

Identifying the Pollen

Sakina Bajowala, MD, is an allergist in St. Charles, Ill., and a member of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology and she explains that pollen grains are small and light and they can be in the air that is all around us. So they can affect the eyes, nose and mouth of those who are sensitive to them. She also tells us that pollen can blow for over 100 miles which adds to the difficulty of identifying any triggers. She also says that’s why windy days are generally worse for seasonal allergic rhinitis sufferers.

She also explains that each individual can be sensitive to different types of pollen. For example some people are sensitive to tree pollen and others it’s grass that affects them, but some people are only affected by certain types of tree or grass pollen. She also mentions that sensitivity can vary from area to area too.

Reducing Exposure to Pollen

The advice given by all of the experts in this field is to avoid the allergens which are the trigger. But when you don’t know the trigger, especially if it’s just blown in from 100 miles away, you realize that this advice is going to be difficult to follow. However there are some things which can be done to minimize the symptoms.

First of all, whenever possible, stay indoors between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon. This is the time when pollen counts are at their highest. Make sure that any filters that you have at home, either on the aircon or furnace is a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air).

Bajowala also suggests that whenever you have to go about your daily activities try to go out later when the pollen count is a bit lower.

Other things which can help to alleviate the symptoms and help to avoid exposing yourself to pollen include taking your shoes off at the door. That way you do not take pollen from your feet into the home. If you have any pets always wipe them down with a damp cloth when they come in. This removes any pollen which may be on the fur. And when you wash your clothes dry them in a tumble drier to avoid them collecting pollen from outside.

Allergies and Treatments

Becker and Bajowala both recommend over the counter antihistamines to minimize the symptoms. And Bajowala adds, “It’s very reasonable to try an over-the-counter antihistamine”. When a body is exposed to allergens then it releases histamines. These histamines join to the body’s cells and it is this action which results in the allergic symptoms.

Antihistamines, as the name suggests allay the allergic symptoms, which can include sneezing and itching of the nose and throat and eyes by inhibiting the action of histamines. Over the counter eye drops may help if the eyes become very itchy and sore.

Decongestants are another over the counter product which can help to ease the allergic symptoms such as blocked nasal passages. A decongestant works at reducing swelling by contracting the vessels in the nasal tubes and they can be bought as nasal sprays or lozenges.

Decongestants have been known to raise blood pressure so if you suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure then talking with your health care provider first is prudent. Other conditions which require professional advice before taking decongestants are diabetes, thyroid disease or enlarged prostate.

As with all medications you must read the label before using decongestants. Find out what your correct dosage is and be aware of any known side effects. Oral decongestants are fine for up to a week but nasal decongestant sprays should never be used for more than three days because complications can develop with longer term use.

There is also a nasal spray which is not a decongestant but works by minimizing the amount of histamines that your body releases. It is called cromolyn (Nasalcrom), and must be administered three or four times daily.

If you have tried all of the over the counter remedies without success then it is probably time for you to see an allergist, according to Becker. Allergists have access to other medications as well as the expertise required to give good advice and help with your allergy, such as problems sleeping or remaining focused throughout the day. Any recurrent problems caused by the allergy can also be addressed.

Testing for Allergies

Some people get tested to identify what it is that they are allergic to. Generally skin tests are the most effective at finding the culprit, but blood tests are also available. Because most of the allergens causing the problem are inhalants it has been found that skin testing is more sensitive.

The skin test is a very simple procedure. The doctor inserts a very small fragment of the allergen being tested for under the skin. If the skin reacts then the body is allergic to that substance. Some patients choose to use the blood test. In this case the blood is tested for antibodies to the pollens.

When to try Allergy Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is something to consider if you are looking for a longer term solution or if the other treatments have not been as successful as you hoped. Sometimes called an ‘allergy shot’ Bajowala says, ”Immunotherapy is essentially a way of retraining your immune system to tolerate something that it is currently overreacting to. What we do with immunotherapy is reintroduce in small amounts the very things the person is allergic to”.

This method of dealing with allergic reactions can take up to six months before the correct dosage is found. But once the correct maintenance dosage is found then normally all other allergy medications are no longer required and you can take the maintenance dosage for up to five years.

When the treatment is terminated after the five years many patients find that they no longer have allergic reactions. There are recorded cases where patients have had immunotherapy and then have had up to ten years free from allergic symptoms.

Bajowala says, “The beauty of immunotherapy is it’s very, very effective at decreasing symptoms and decreasing the amount of medication you need”.

In a new development there is a further type of immunotherapy being progressed. Instead of injections this type consists of oral drops to be put under the tongue. Presently it has not been approved for use in the United States according to Becker.

Allergies and Treatments

Becker and Bajowala both recommend over the counter antihistamines to minimize the symptoms. And Bajowala adds, “It’s very reasonable to try an over-the-counter antihistamine”. When a body is exposed to allergens then it releases histamines. These histamines join to the body’s cells and it is this action which results in the allergic symptoms.

Antihistamines, as the name suggests allay the allergic symptoms, which can include sneezing and itching of the nose and throat and eyes by inhibiting the action of histamines. Over the counter eye drops may help if the eyes become very itchy and sore.

Decongestants are another over the counter product which can help to ease the allergic symptoms such as blocked nasal passages. A decongestant works at reducing swelling by contracting the vessels in the nasal tubes and they can be bought as nasal sprays or lozenges.

Decongestants have been known to raise blood pressure so if you suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure then talking with your health care provider first is prudent. Other conditions which require professional advice before taking decongestants are diabetes, thyroid disease or enlarged prostate.

As with all medications you must read the label before using decongestants. Find out what your correct dosage is and be aware of any known side effects. Oral decongestants are fine for up to a week but nasal decongestant sprays should never be used for more than three days because complications can develop with longer term use.

There is also a nasal spray which is not a decongestant but works by minimizing the amount of histamines that your body releases. It is called cromolyn (Nasalcrom), and must be administered three or four times daily.

If you have tried all of the over the counter remedies without success then it is probably time for you to see an allergist, according to Becker. Allergists have access to other medications as well as the expertise required to give good advice and help with your allergy, such as problems sleeping or remaining focused throughout the day. Any recurrent problems caused by the allergy can also be addressed.

Testing for Allergies

Some people get tested to identify what it is that they are allergic to. Generally skin tests are the most effective at finding the culprit, but blood tests are also available. Because most of the allergens causing the problem are inhalants it has been found that skin testing is more sensitive.

The skin test is a very simple procedure. The doctor inserts a very small fragment of the allergen being tested for under the skin. If the skin reacts then the body is allergic to that substance. Some patients choose to use the blood test. In this case the blood is tested for antibodies to the pollens.

When to try Allergy Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is something to consider if you are looking for a longer term solution or if the other treatments have not been as successful as you hoped. Sometimes called an ‘allergy shot’ Bajowala says, ”Immunotherapy is essentially a way of retraining your immune system to tolerate something that it is currently overreacting to. What we do with immunotherapy is reintroduce in small amounts the very things the person is allergic to”.

This method of dealing with allergic reactions can take up to six months before the correct dosage is found. But once the correct maintenance dosage is found then normally all other allergy medications are no longer required and you can take the maintenance dosage for up to five years.

When the treatment is terminated after the five years many patients find that they no longer have allergic reactions. There are recorded cases where patients have had immunotherapy and then have had up to ten years free from allergic symptoms.

Bajowala says, “The beauty of immunotherapy is it’s very, very effective at decreasing symptoms and decreasing the amount of medication you need”.

In a new development there is a further type of immunotherapy being progressed. Instead of injections this type consists of oral drops to be put under the tongue. Presently it has not been approved for use in the United States according to Becker.

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