Posts Tagged ‘seasonal allergies’

All About Seasonal Allergies

If you are among the 40 million Americans who have seasonal allergens, you know all too well that springtime means higher pollen counts.

I described the typical causes and treatments for seasonal allergies, as well as dispelled some allergy myths, in the April 2014 issue of American Legion magazine.

Here’s the gist of the article in the magazines “Living Well” section below:

Seasonal allergies such as hay fever are the most common type of an allergy, which is an overreaction of your immune system to a foreign substance (“allergen”).

This immune overreaction can result in symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat.

In severe cases of skin, food, latex, insect, or eye allergies, it can lead to rashes, hives, lower blood pressure, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and even death.

Knowing exactly what you are allergic to can help you lessen or prevent exposure, and treat your reactions.

Allergy skin testing, considered the most sensitive testing method, provides rapid results.

The most common test involves pricking the skin with the extract of a specific allergen, then observing the skin’s reaction.

Blood tests can also provide similar information to allergy skin testing.

Treatment

The best treatment for allergies is to avoid the offending allergens.

If you are allergic to a specific food like peanuts, remove them from your diet (be careful for hidden peanuts in foods).

That’s not so easy when you are allergic to ragweed pollen in the air.

Various over-the-counter or prescription medications can relieve the common symptoms of hay fever.

Antihistamines

These medications counter the effects of histamine, the substance that makes your eyes water, nose itch, and causes you to sneeze.

Newer antihistamines do not cause the sleepiness that was a problem with older versions.

Nasal steroids

These anti-inflammatory sprays help decrease inflammation, swelling, and mucus production.

They work well alone or in combination with antihistamines, and are relatively free of side effects.

Cromolyn sodium

This nasal spray also helps stop hay fever, perhaps by blocking release of histamine and other symptom-producing chemicals.

It has few side effects.

Decongestants

Available in capsule and spray form, these drugs may reduce swelling and sinus discomfort.

They are intended for short-term use, and usually are used along with antihistamines.

Be aware that long-term use of decongestant sprays can make your symptoms worse.

Allergy shots

Also known as immunotherapy, these might help if you don’t get relief with antihistamines or nasal steroids.

These shots alter the body’s immune response and help to prevent allergic reactions.

They are the only form of treatment that induces long-lasting protection.

But immunotherapy treatments are limited because of potential allergic reactions, which can be severe.

Allergy Myths and Misconceptions

Common myths and misconceptions about allergies persist due to false information in the media and online.

David Stukus, MD, an allergist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, outlines some of the greatest myths.

1. “I’m Allergic to Artificial Dyes” – There is no scientific evidence to support a link between exposure to artificial coloring and allergies.

2. “I Cannot Have Vaccines Due to an Egg Allergy” – Egg embryos are used to grow viruses for vaccines such as the flu, yellow fever, and rabies shots. But it’s safe to get a flu shot, which can help prevent serious illness.

3. “At-Home Blood Tests Reveal All You Are Allergic To” – These tests might reveal sensitization, for example, to milk, but that doesn’t mean you are necessarily allergic to it.

4. “I’m Allergic to Cats and Dogs, but Can Have a Hypoallergenic Breed” – There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic cat or dog.

It’s not the fur you may be allergic to but the allergens released in saliva and glands.

5. “I’m Allergic to Shellfish and Cannot Have Iodine Imaging” – Some physicians have linked a reaction to iodine dye used in imaging tests to a shellfish allergy.

But iodine cannot be an allergen since it is found in the human body.

6. “I Can’t have Bread, I’m Allergic to Gluten” – Many people claim to have a gluten allergy.

You may have gluten intolerance, but it’s extremely rare to have a true allergy to wheat-based foods.

If you think you may have an allergy, Dr. Stukus recommends that you see a board-certified allergist for proper evaluation, testing, diagnosis, and treatment.