As the trees and flowers continue to bloom, you may be feeling the effects of seasonal allergies.
But what are seasonal allergies and why are you one of the millions of Americans who suffer from their pesky symptoms? Dr. Lea Humphrey and Dr. Hilton McDonald, ear, nose, throat and allergy specialists at Mercy Clinic Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy in Joplin, give you the lowdown on allergies.
What are seasonal allergies and why do we get them?
An allergy is when a person has an overactive or extreme response to a normal substance in the environment.
Are they really “seasonal” or can they be year round?
Allergies can definitely be year round. Most people associate spring with allergies, for example, because of the high amount of tree pollen released as trees bloom. But a lot of people suffer from allergies during other times of the year. In fact, every season has its own allergens associated with it. In the summer, there’s an increase in grass allergies. Weeds, like ragweed, cause a lot of allergies in the fall. Since people are inside more often in the winter, a lot of people suffer from indoor allergies, such as issues with mold, animal dander and dust.
What are the typical symptoms of seasonal allergies?
With seasonal allergies, you may experience sneezing, congestion, watery eyes and/or a runny nose, among other symptoms.
What treatment options are available for seasonal allergies?
It usually takes different medications and environmental changes to help relieve allergy symptoms. A nasal steroid spray, like Flonase, Nasonex or Nasacort helps nasal symptoms. The downside of these sprays is that you must take them every day and it can take up to three weeks to be fully effective. If you miss even one day a week, the spray will never reach its full effectiveness.
Antihistamines like Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin are good for drying out a runny nose and helps with itching, while Mucinex is good for thinning out thick mucus secretions.
While all of these medications are good for treating allergy symptoms, immunotherapy is an option that can cure allergies. Immunotherapy is usually a three- to five-year commitment and the goal after that time is a cure for allergies. We offer subcutaneous immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy in the form of allergy drops. It’s patient preference, but it’s nice to be able to have effective treatment alternatives.
Another way to battle allergies is by eliminating the pollen from a person’s nose after exposure. For example, if someone with a grass allergy has been out mowing, he or she may experience allergies for several days. If that person uses a nasal irrigation device, like a neti pot, to rinse all of the pollen out of their nose after mowing, they may experience less severe allergy symptoms.
Also, not opening your windows during the typical allergy season will prevent the pollen from getting inside as well.
Are some people more prone to seasonal allergies than others and is there anything you can do to reduce your chances of getting seasonal allergies?
Yes, some people have a genetic predisposition to allergies.
There hasn’t been much proven about how to prevent allergies, but there are some theories. One is the “hygiene hypothesis.” Basically, it says we’re seeing more allergies nowadays because our society is so clean and we sterilize everything. This is compared to a few decades ago when kids grew up playing in the dirt and with pets and livestock.
When should you see your doctor?
Determining when to see a doctor really comes down to how well you are controlling your symptoms. As physicians specializing in the treatment of allergies, we are here to provide advice to patients on how to deal with issues impacting their bodies. If you are not able to effectively control your symptoms, it may be a good time to visit a doctor to determine new ways to address your allergies.