No Need to Be Miserable This Allergy Season
By Rob Broekemeier, FNP
Avera Medical Group Pierce
It’s that time again! I have already seen many people over the last few weeks suffering from allergies. If you are one of the 60 million Americans that suffer from seasonal allergies, you certainly can relate. It can be miserable and very frustrating.
Seasonal allergies are also known as allergic rhinitis. This is the group of uncomfortable symptoms that occur when your body is exposed to a specific allergen. An allergen is a typically harmless substance, such as grass or dust, which causes an allergic reaction. Pollen is the most common allergen for most people. When your body comes into contact with an allergen, it releases histamine. This is a natural chemical that is actually intended to defend the body from the allergen. However, this chemical causes many uncomfortable symptoms that include runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes.
As many of you know who suffer from this condition, it can interfere with your everyday quality of life, so it is important to find treatment. Common allergens that can cause this condition include pollen, dust, animal dander (old skin), cat saliva, and mold.
Pollen is the biggest allergen culprit, especially during certain times of the year. Tree and flower pollen is more prevalent in the spring, while grasses and weeds produce more pollen in the summer and fall months.
Who Gets Allergies?
Allergies can happen to anyone at any age, but they tend to be genetic. You are more likely to develop allergic rhinitis if your family has a history of allergies. According to the National Institutes of Health, the chances are even higher if your mother has a history of allergy problems.
There are also substances that can trigger this condition or make it worse. They include:
- cigarette smoke
- cold temperatures
- wood smoke
The most common symptoms of this condition include:
- runny nose
- stuffy nose
- itchy nose
- sore throat
- itchy and watery eyes
- dark under-eye circles
- frequent headaches
- eczema-type symptoms (extremely dry, itchy skin that often blisters)
- hives (red, sometimes itchy, bumps on the skin)
- excessive fatigue
Minor allergies usually only require a physical exam. However, your health care provider may recommend specific tests. Skin prick is one of the most commonly used tests to determine specific allergies and may beneficial to design a specific treatment regimen and plan. By using the results of this test, your health care provider can better recommend treatment.
Another common allergy test is a blood test, sometimes referred to as a RAST test. This test measures the amount of immunoglobulin (Ig) e antibodies to particular allergens that are present in your blood. A RAST test is also very helpful when developing a treatment plan.
Allergic rhinitis may be classified as seasonal or perennial (year-round) and plays an important part in specific treatment. The main stay treatment for allergies typically includes a multi prong approach centered on the individual and their presenting symptoms.
Treatment includes one or all of the following: antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops, nasal sprays and in severe cases immunotherapy (allergy shots). Antihistamines effectively treat allergies. They can also help prevent this condition because they block histamine formation in the body.
Some over-the-counter versions may be helpful, but remember to always talk to your health care provider before starting a new medication, especially if you take other medications or have other medical conditions. Decongestants are used over a short period of time to help relieve stuffy nose and sinus pressure. Talk with your health care provider before use if you have high blood pressure.
You can temporarily use eye drops and nasal sprays to relieve itchiness and other symptoms related to allergies. However, don’t use either product on a long-term basis unless advised by your health care provider.
Lastly, it may be recommend that you consider immunotherapy if you have severe allergies. Commonly known as allergy shots, this treatment plan is used in conjunction with medications to control your symptoms. These shots are intended to decrease your immune response to particular allergens over time. They do require prior testing and most time consultation with an allergist or a specialist in allergies.
How to Prevent or Avoid Allergies
Even with all the mediation options, the best treatment is prevention and avoidance. Preventing allergy symptoms means managing your allergies before your body has a chance to adversely respond to substances. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends starting medications before seasonal allergy attacks. For example, if you are sensitive to tree pollen in the spring, you may want to start taking antihistamines before an allergic reaction has the chance to occur.
Another effective way to prevent allergic rhinitis is to steer clear of the allergens that cause your symptoms. This is known as avoidance. For instance, stay indoors when pollen counts are high, and take showers immediately after being outside. Also, clean your home to remove pet dander, mold, and dust. Avoidance is not always possible unless you are willing to live your life in a plastic bubble, which for some people with severe allergies may have truly contemplated. It is a struggle, but being proactive has its benefits.
Ultimately the outcome of treatment depends on your unique condition. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually not severe, and can be managed well with medications. However, severe forms of this condition will likely require long-term treatment. Some patients may even develop sinusitis (inflamed nasal passages that can cause breathing difficulties and pain) or asthma along with this condition.
Whether your allergy symptoms are mild or severe, your health care provider is here to help. Allergy symptoms and treatment is a point of interest for my family, since my wife and I suffer from allergies.
Doesn't Suffer with Allergies - Get Help
If you are one of 60 million who deal with this condition, please be active and don't suffer in silence. There is help. My colleagues at Avera Medical Group Pierece and I would be more than happy to discuss this with you and help develop a plan of treatment.