Ah, spring, when everything seems to come alive–including allergies. Along with the budding flowers come pollen, weeds, and the inevitable sneezing, runny noses, and watery eyes. For an estimated 35 million Americans with seasonal allergies, a breezy warm day can be downright unpleasant.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. A growing arsenal of allergy medications can now ward off much of this seasonal discomfort, typically with few side effects. Add in common sense to avoid the worst that outdoor allergens have to offer and just about anyone can breathe a deep sigh of relief.
So why are so many people still miserable? Despite professional recommendations and a continuous barrage of allergy drug ads, experts say that many patients needlessly wheeze their way through the change of seasons, often with little faith that anything can be done. A recent survey, for example, found that only half of allergy sufferers believe effective treatments are available. Doctors are more optimistic.
“Allergies can be controlled with the right medication,” says Dr. William Storms of the Asthma and Allergy Associates in Colorado Springs. “Oftentimes, it’s a matter of not going far enough with treatment.”
Nothing to Sneeze At
Part of the problem may be the medications themselves. In the same survey, which was conducted by Dr. Storms and other allergy specialists, just a quarter of those who used either a prescription or over-the-counter allergy drug rated their symptoms as well-controlled, and about one-third complained of side effects.
This does not mean that patients should give up on treating their allergies, Dr. Storms says, especially with the newer agents. “Some may have just tried an over-the-counter remedy, and when it doesn’t work, they just accept their plight,” says Dr. Storm.
Indeed, years of hopeless suffering may have left many to think that allergies are just another rite of spring, like the start of baseball season or cleaning out the garage. “I think the main problem is that people don’t realize they can get help,” says Dr. Stanley Fineman of the Emory University School of Medicine. “In the past, allergies have not been … [categorized] as a significant problem in many physicians’ minds.”
Allergies are clearly more than a minor inconvenience. Seasonal outbreaks can make a day at the beach burdensome, cause trouble with work, and possibly drain the economy of several billion dollars in lost productivity, according to some estimates. True, certain allergy medications can leave you feeling as if you’re in a mild coma, and seem hardly better than the disease itself. Although new, less-sedating drugs are a big improvement, they also require a prescription, and therefore, a trip to the doctor and a good deal of money. Why go beyond the corner store when it’s just a runny nose?
Because, experts say, treating your allergies offers the surest route to carefree breathing and an improved quality of life. Just imagine what it would be like to stop and smell the flowers without sneezing all over them. “Treatments can’t control allergies, but they help symptoms significantly,” says Dr. Fineman.
What to Take
Experts caution that some patients may not respond as well to certain drugs, and that no one therapy is best for all allergy sufferers. Still, some have their favorites. Dr. Harold Nelson, an allergist with the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Colorado, says that patients are better off using prescription nasal sprays. These include Flonase, Nasonex, and Rhinocort-AQ. These products do contain steroids, but nasal sprays are not dangerous like steroids that are injected or taken in pill form.
For nasal sprays to be effective, however, patients must use them regularly, even without symptoms. If this becomes a problem, Dr. Nelson recommends taking antihistamines. Stimulants are now added to some over-the-counter antihistamines to counter drowsiness. In addition, prescription antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec offer symptom relief with far less drowsiness, and can be taken once a day.
Decongestants are another option, and finally, when all else fails, there are allergy shots. Studies show that 3-5 years of weekly injections with immunotherapy can provide long-term relief and may eliminate the need for further allergy medications.
Where to Hide
There are plenty of things you can do to protect yourself from coming into contact with allergy triggers. “It’s very important that people know how sensitive they are to allergens,” says Dr. Nelson. “If they know that a high exposure to something makes them sick, then it’s best to avoid it.” Allergy-prone runners, for instance, may want to hold off on afternoon jogs, because pollen counts are usually then at their highest.
Follow these steps to avoid seasonal allergies:
* Keep windows closed to prevent pollens and molds from drifting into your house.
* Try to stay indoors when the pollen count or humidity is high, and on windy days, when pollen is easily spread.
* Avoid mowing lawns or being around freshly cut grass.
* Take a shower and wash your hair after spending time outdoors.
* Invest in a high-efficiency air cleaner for rooms where you spend the most time.
Article By: Eric Sabo, Medical Writer