Controlling Seasonal Allergies
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Controlling Seasonal Allergies

As many as 60 million Americans have symptoms of allergic rhinitis, known commonly as hay fever, caused by pollen allergies. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, and congestion. While not contagious, left undiagnosed and untreated, allergies can make you miserable. For some, allergies trigger asthma attacks that can diminish productivity at work or school. As our pollen season ramps up, I wanted to share the ways to cope with allergies and some methods your doctor or advanced practice provider can recommend for treating them.

What are allergies?
An allergy is the body’s overreaction to a natural or man-made chemical stimulus, such as tree pollen. The immune system gets over stimulated and causes allergy symptoms. Allergies can be genetic, caused by frequent exposure to allergens, or both. Once an allergic exposure happens, our bodies release histamines and other chemicals that cause allergic symptoms.

Is it allergies or something else?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between allergies, the common cold, the flu, or COVID. Allergies are very focused on the nose and eyes. Allergy sufferers will experience itching of the nose and eyes along with other nasal symptoms. In addition, allergies usually occur at about the same time every year and last about 2-3 weeks.

By comparison, colds last about one week and have less itching of the nose and eyes. The flu and COVID are often accompanied by a fever. If you are unsure, get tested for COVID.

How do I cope?
Begin by trying to avoid the allergen. Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to reduce pollen getting into your eyes. Avoid touching your eyes or nose.

Follow a weather service that reports the daily pollen count, and keep windows closed during times of increased pollen concentration. Consider using a certified asthma and allergy-friendly air filter in your home air conditioner and car. You can also reduce your symptoms by washing out your nose daily with a nasal saline rinse and a squeeze bottle or a Neti pot.

Next, you can try an over-the-counter medication or check in with your doctor or advanced practice provider for a prescription. Antihistamines and decongestants come in the form of pills you take by mouth and nasal sprays. Other medications, like nasal corticosteroids, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and cromolyn sodium, are also available. All help relieve symptoms for some people. 

If you are still having difficulty, allergy specialists can perform skin tests to identify the specific allergen. Once identified, they may be able to give you allergy shots, injections of an increasing dose of the allergen over time. The patient becomes less and less sensitive. Sublingual immunotherapy uses a similar concept, only the allergen is delivered in tablet form under the tongue.

You don’t have to let allergies interrupt an otherwise healthy, active spring. With prevention and treatment, you can continue to do the things you love.

Jama Peacock Birsett, MD, is a family medicine physician at Twin Rivers Medical, P.C. in Hoosick Falls, NY.



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