Take Control of Seasonal Allergies
May 8, 2020 by SriniVasan Ramanuja, MD
Spring in Minnesota also means allergy season! Seasonal allergies develop when the body’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment, usually pollens and mold in the spring, summer and fall.
The body makes chemicals called histamines which cause typical allergy symptoms of sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery and itchy eyes, itchy nose, throat or ear canals, sinus congestion and postnasal drip.
Pollens from trees, grass and weeds along with outdoor molds can cause seasonal allergies. An allergist can help you identify your allergies and find relief.
As an allergist, I can empathize with my patients because I had allergies growing up. That’s why I work closely with patients to accurately diagnose allergies. I also educate patients to help them have a greater understanding of their condition.
Here are the best ways to manage your allergies.
Follow these tips to reduce your exposure to allergens during spring, summer and fall.
- Keep windows closed in your home and car as much as possible during times when symptoms are worse.
- After spending time outdoors, take a shower and wash or at least rinse your hair before bedtime.
- Change your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors.
- Limit time outdoors. Use Pollen.com to get daily reports. As a rule of thumb, pollen levels tend to peak in morning hours and pollen counts surge on windy, warm days.
Antihistamines work by reducing or blocking the histamines to stop the allergy symptoms. Popular antihistamines include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) and fexofenadine (Allegra). While newer antihistamines tend to have less side effects, remember all medications carry side effects. Always read the label for side effects, drug interactions and dosage. If you’re unsure if an antihistamine is right for you, ask your primary care provider, pharmacist or allergist.
Steroid Nasal sprays
Nasal sprays can be helpful when nasal symptoms are not adequately controlled by an oral antihistamine. Nasal sprays can target congestion, runny nose, nasal itching and sneezing. Steroid nasal sprays are available over-the-counter and by prescription. It usually takes a week before symptoms improve. Always read the label for side effects, interactions and directions. Your primary care provider, allergist or pharmacist can answer your questions about nasal sprays.
Are your seasonal allergies being adequately controlled by over-the-counter treatments? If the answer is no, then allergy testing is recommended. Testing can also be helpful if your allergies are adequately controlled by medications, but you’d like to learn precisely what your allergy triggers are. Allergy testing can identify specific triggers. Then based on these results, environment control measures can be recommended.
The preferred testing method is skin testing. A liquid extract of allergens such as pollens, dust mite, cat and dog dander, and mold are pricked or scratched into the skin on the back. After 15 minutes, we interpret the results. So the results are available the same day. An alternative method is a blood test. This test checks for specific antibodies to identify allergens. Results can take up to one week to receive.
Allergy shots, known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, are recommended when nasal allergies are not adequately controlled despite medications and environment control measures. Allergy shots involve taking specific environmental allergens and injecting these under the skin. The injections are given in increasing doses over a period of time. After a few months of weekly injections, the target maintenance dose is reached. Once the target dose is reached, the shots are given monthly for 3-5 years. Once the body builds up a tolerance or immunity to the allergen, they can discontinue the shots. Immunotherapy works very well for allergies to pollens from trees, grass and weeds, cats, dogs, dust mites and mold.
Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for seasonal allergies. Some have claimed that consuming local honey that has pollen is a cure for seasonal allergies. This is false. There isn’t any strong evidence showing that the consumption of local honey has any beneficial effect for seasonal allergies.
Dr. Ramanuja is seeing patients in office and virtually through telehealth visits. To learn more, visit Mankato Clinic Allergy.