- Category: News
26 May 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
Common indoor and outdoor allergens include tree, grass, and weed pollen, dust mites, animal dander, mold, and cockroaches.
The best way for people to avoid those outdoor pollens is to “keep those windows closed and run your air conditioner 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Dr. Susan Berdy, an allergist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a board member for the St. Louis chapter of the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America.
That can get expensive.
For those who need other choices, there are options.
“There are over-the-counter antihistamines like Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec – if those don’t work, usually your doctor can prescribe a prescription nasal spray,” she says.
Nasal allergies cause your nasal cavity to become irritated and inflamed, making it hard to breathe.
“The most commonly used (prescription) nasal sprays are the steroid-type nasal sprays like Flonase or Nasonex,” Berdy says. “Usually the steroid nasal sprays are best used as a preventative before and during the season and they can effectively prevent the symptoms and they have a very low side effect profile.”
Because they are not hormones and the active ingredient in them are not absorbed very well into the bloodstream, Berdy describes these as safe and effective.
Berdy says another class of nasal sprays – the nasal antihistamines, like Astepro or Patanase, can be added on to over the-counter medications.
And, just in case you think your allergies this spring are worse than ever, it may not be your imagination, says allergist/immunologist Dr. Jeff Stokes, an associate professor of medicine with Creighton University School of Medicine, in Omaha, Nebraska. Stokes says that rising temperatures have lengthened the spring allergy season, causing plants to pollinate longer. In addition, an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is most likely resulting in more pollen being emitted, he added.
“For those who believe in global warming, that could be a factor,” Stokes said.
Ten to 30 percent of U.S. adults and up to 40 percent of all children suffer from hay fever. The National Institutes of Health says hay fever happens when pollen from trees, weeds, and grasses get into the nose and throat, causing sneezing, runny or stuff nose, itchy eyes, nose and throat; dark circles under the eyes, coughing, and post nasal drip.
Stokes says those with a family history and young adults are most at risk. Allergies generally begin in childhood, peak in young adulthood and disappear as we get older.
Allergies affecting the skin can cause itching, hives, eczema and psoriasis.
Eye allergies are called allergic conjunctivitis. Symptoms begin almost immediately after exposure to allergens, and those watery, itchy eyes can last for what seems like an eternity.
“We can add eye drops,” Berdy says.
Some people have very serious, life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, which involves the entire body and develops very rapidly – in seconds or minutes. Anaphylaxis may result in breathing difficulties, shock or death and requires immediate medical attention. People who are at risk for anaphylaxis carry EpiPens to self-inject epinephrine (adrenaline) when a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs. The epinephrine raises blood pressure and your heart rate back to normal levels. The most common culprits causing anaphylactic shock are venom from insect stings or bites and drug and food allergies.
Berdy says people can outgrow some food allergies, but others are lifelong.
For some people, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can help to reduce sensitivity to allergens over time.
“There are allergy shots for those patients where medications don’t work or have side effects that people find unacceptable,” Berdy adds. “People are on them for about five years and you start off for safety reasons, with weekly injections. It goes from a low dose to an effective dose, and then after they start to become effective, the interval between the shots increases to every other week and every third week and then once a month.
“The thing about allergy shots is they have to be given in a doctor’s office where a doctor is supervising the patient to watch for signs of an allergic reaction so that they can treat it promptly and effectively.”
After five years of shots, Berdy says many people are sensitized to their allergens.
“Many people have no symptoms after that and other people may have minimal symptoms that require just some medications – but it is usually very dramatic at reducing the severity of the symptoms or the complications, like sinus infections and asthma that can be associated with allergies.”
Allergens can cause asthma attacks. Known as allergic asthma, it is the most common form of asthma and produces wheezing, breathing difficulties, coughing and chest tightness. Unlike other allergy shots, patients with severe, persistent asthma who take Xolair shots for allergic asthma are on them for the long haul.
When to see a doctor
How do you know if you need to see a doctor about your allergies?
See a health professional when you can’t control the symptoms by yourself.
“You go to a doctor when avoidance measures – the windows closed, the air conditioner on doesn’t work – you don’t want to spend long periods of time outdoors,” Berdy explains. “If those things don’t work and over-the-counter medications (don’t work), then you do want to see a doctor or an allergist to get better treatment.”
(The Asthma and Allergy Foundation has several suggestions on how to aggressively reduce the amount of allergens in your home. Find out by visiting http://tinyurl.com/indoorallergens. )
(Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American/Sandra Jordan.)