Flowers blooming, bees buzzing and breezes blowing are a recipe for itching, sneezing and wheezing for seasonal allergy suffers. Seasonal allergies can wreak havoc during some of life’s simplest pleasures, such as a picnic in the park or a hike in the woods.”
Respiratory allergies represent inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the nasal passages and lungs. Airborne pollens from trees, grasses, weeds and molds cause seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, as the condition is commonly called. Allergy season typically kicks off in the spring and recurs in the fall when certain plants pollinate. Here in southeast Idaho, spring allergy season has already begun.
Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from some form of allergic disease. While a significant number of individuals are afflicted with seasonal allergies, many others deal with year-round allergens such as pet dander. Experts estimate that twenty percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children are affected by allergies, and reactions to such can range from mild to severe. Importantly, allergies can lead to asthma and sinusitis. In recognition of the importance of asthma as a chronic disease which afflicts many children and adults, May is designated “Asthma Awareness Month.”
With seasonal allergies, airborne pollen from various seasonal plants or, in some cases, spores from mold, enter the body through the eyes, nose or throat triggering an allergic reaction. Normally, the immune system does not respond to common substances such as pollen and mold. However, in sensitive or allergic individuals, the immune system overacts to these allergens. Once the immune system has detected the invader, it unleashes a host of chemicals such as histamines and other compounds resulting in localized inflammation leading to irritation and discomfort.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, of which I am a fellow, “allergic disease can develop at any age, and heredity plays a key role in who will develop it. If one parent has allergic disease, the estimated chance of a child to develop allergies is about one out of three and up to two out of three if both parents have allergies.”
While we live in a world filled with allergens, unfortunately, there is not a cure for allergies. However, there are many types of medications available like antihistamines or decongestants to help ease those annoying symptoms. Some over the counter antihistamines such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin) are longer lasting and less likely to cause drowsiness than diphenhydramine (Benadryl). If antihistamines alone are insufficiently helpful, topical corticosteroid nasal sprays are available, either by prescription, or now in some cases, over the counter.
If you always get sick the same time of year, start sneezing and get a scratchy throat, you might have allergies. If you think you or your child might be affected by allergies, and over-the-counter medications are not doing the job, make an appointment with a board-certified Allergy and Asthma specialist. An allergist can help determine if a person has seasonal or persistent allergies and what might trigger a reaction.
Once the triggers have been identified, a specialist can prepare a treatment plan that includes the avoidance of allergic triggers, use of medication to provide relief, and even allergy immunotherapy (“allergy desensitization shots”) to ‘make you not allergic.’ Some patients may even qualify for newly FDA-approved sublingual immunotherapy to grasses or ragweed, which may be administered at home.
Websites with reliable information regarding allergies and asthma include: www.aaaai.org, www.acaai.org, and www.allergyasthmanetwork.org. To contact my office, Pocatello Allergy and Asthma Clinic, call 233-0801.
Dr. David Parry is the only board certified allergy and immunology specialist in Pocatello and is an active member of Portneuf Medical Center’s Medical Staff.