Achoo! It's Allergy Season

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4/1/2008

It is allergy season again in many parts of the United States and Canada. When we think of seasonal allergies, the most common name that comes to mind is “hay fever”. Hay fever got its name in the 1800s when British doctors noticed that patients in rural areas experienced, itchy eyes, sneezing and coughing after exposure to cut hay. They called the condition a “fever” because it caused nervousness, one of the old English definitions of fever.

Doctors now know that people develop allergies as a result of their immune system reacting to a usually harmless substance in the environment. This substance (pollen, mold, etc.) is called an allergen. During a process called sensitization, our immune system mistakenly identifies the allergen as an invader and triggers a sequence of chemical reactions in our body that results in the release of substances, including histamines which swell the linings of your nose, sinuses and eyes, causing a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.

Signs and symptoms of hay fever include runny nose, nasal congestion, facial pressure and pain, cough, as well as itchy and watery eyes. Hay fever that persists for more than several days can affect your quality of life. Constant nose blowing, congestion and sneezing are not only uncomfortable, but may cause sleeplessness, fatigue and irritability that can affect your performance at work or school.

If you haven’t found relief from using over-the-counter medications, see your doctor so that he can help you with a treatment plan. Also, if you suffer from a chronic medical condition check with your doctor before using over-the-counter medications.

After your doctor has identified what allergen triggers your symptoms, sometimes, avoidance alone can effectively control hay fever problems. Your doctor may also prescribe an oral antihistamine, a nasal spray or eye drops. A few of the most common prescription medications include the following:

• Nasal corticosteroids: are the most effective hay fever medications, and often prescribed first. Examples include, Beconase, Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort and Nasonex.

• Antihistamines: Less-sedating oral antihistamines include Zyrtec and Allegra.

• Eye drops: For those whose major symptom is watery and itchy eyes, the eyedrop prescription medication, Pataday, soothes and prevents the allergy response for an entire day.

• Allergy shots, also called Immunotherapy, may be recommended by your doctor for those who have allergy symptoms more than 3 months of the year or have severe allergies that do not respond to medications. Usually, a specialist in allergies, an Allergist-Immunologist provides this type of therapy.

So what can you do for you to reduce the symptoms of hay fever? To reduce the symptoms, you need to minimize exposure to pollen or molds:

• Close doors and windows during pollen season.

• Do not hang laundry outside – pollen can stick to sheets and towels.

• Use air conditioning in your house and car.

• Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.

• Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves, which stirs up pollen and molds.

• Wear a dust mask when doing outdoor activities such as gardening.