April 15, 2014

Buds, blooms and a burst into spring foliage can happen almost overnight during this time of the year.  While this change brings great relief from the cold winter days, for many people, the spring awakening is accompanied by annoying, discomforting seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies (also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis) are triggered by pollens that are produced by foliage and grasses each spring, summer, and fall. Different pollens may cause symptoms during different seasons. You may have spring allergies, but not fall allergies or you may be sensitive in all three seasons. For some people, when pollen enters the nose and throat, it triggers the release of histamines, which are chemicals in your body that react to foreign substances. This histamine response causes the sneezing, runny nose, coughing, itchy eyes or sore, itchy throat.

There are many ways to help manage seasonal allergies. Reducing exposure to pollen is one method that can help to improve symptoms of seasonal allergies. Some strategies for helping to make your life “unsneezable” include: Avoid doing outside yard work during high pollen times and on windy days. If you must work outside, wear a pollen mask; Keep windows and doors closed during heavy pollination seasons. Use air conditioning if possible. Keep the filters clean; If possible, arrange for others to do your mowing and weeding; Remove your outdoor clothes when returning indoors. Shower to get the pollen out of your hair and out of your bed; Don’t hang laundry outside; Wear sunglasses outdoors to protect your eyes from pollen; Note that pollen can cling to your pet’s fur.  If you can’t keep them outdoors, bathe them frequently. 

The use of medications is another strategy for coping with seasonal allergies. These come in different forms and act differently in the body. Within the last several years, the development of nasal corticosteroids (nose sprays that have steroids in them)  have replaced some of the older nose sprays. These drugs work to block the histamine reaction right in the nose. They can be used for the whole allergy season and are often started before the allergy begins. They generally require a prescription, however the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Triamcinolone, a nasal corticosteroid, (sold as Nasacort AQ) that you can purchase without a prescription. Although it can be purchased without a prescription, The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology warns that all nasal corticosteroids, whether Over-The- Counter (OTC) or prescription, should be used according to directions and under a medical provider’s direction. If they are not applied correctly, they can cause damage to the nasal passages. Because they contain steroids, there are possible side effects (although much less likely than occurs with oral steroids) such as growth restriction in children or damage to the eyes. (Source:   Over-the-Counter Allergy Nasal Spray Triamcinolone - What Does It Mean for Patients? www.aaaai.org)

There are also pills that can reduce the symptoms and discomfort from seasonal allergies. There are antihistamines, which help block the histamine response. These include drugs like Claritin, Zyrtec, Xyzal,   Allegra, Benedryl, Chlortrimeton and Tavist. ( The last three examples tend to cause drowsiness.) Your doctor may recommend that you begin antihistamines before symptoms start in your allergic season. Antihistamine nasal sprays are available by prescription. Decongestants, such as Sudafed, provide quick, temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestions by decreasing swelling in the nasal passages, however, pregnant women, older adults or those with high blood pressure should be careful when using them as they might increase blood pressure. Some pills combine an antihistamine and a decongestant and include Allegra-D, Claritin-D and Zyrtec-D. Decongestant nasal sprays should not be used for more than three days in a row, as this can result in a rebound effect, increasing congestion and swelling in the nose.  

For people with very severe allergies, immunotherapy with allergy shots may be the route to go. Others turn to complementary/alternate medicine approaches. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (www.nccam.nih.gov) offers the following information as you consider an alternative approach for relief of your seasonal allergies: Nasal saline irrigation. There is reasonably good evidence that saline nasal irrigation (putting salt water into one nostril and draining it out the other) can be useful for modest improvement of allergy symptoms. Nasal irrigation is generally safe; however, neti pots and other rinsing devices must be used and cleaned properly. According to the FDA, tap water that is not filtered, treated, or processed in specific ways is not safe for use as a nasal rinse. Butterbur extract. There are hints that the herb butterbur may decrease the symptoms associated with nasal allergies. However, there are concerns about its safety. Honey. Only a few studies have looked at the effects of honey on seasonal allergy symptoms, and there is no convincing scientific evidence that honey provides symptom relief. Eating honey is generally safe; however, children under 1 year of age should not eat honey. People who are allergic to pollen or bee stings may also be allergic to honey. Acupuncture. Only a few small studies have been conducted on acupuncture for relief of seasonal allergy symptoms, and the limited scientific evidence currently available has not shown acupuncture to be beneficial in treating seasonal allergies.

For detailed information on seasonal allergies, visit the The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website, www.aaaai.org. District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) who do not have internet access can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District for written information on this topic or request at dculligan@qvhd.org