So many of us in Northern Arizona either know of others who suffer or personally agonize from seasonal allergies. Springtime is commonly the start of the annual season. As spring is in the air and the blooms begin, the cedars and junipers are the hallmark of misery to many. At lower altitudes the ash and cottonwoods are offenders as well. Moving into the summer, the many wildflowers and grasses may also be sources of hay fever symptoms. There are also year-round offenders that may lurk anywhere, all of the time, such as dust mites and molds.
The symptoms of hay fever may include the complaints of sneezing, coughing and itching. Other conditions include eye irritation, skin complaints including hives, eczema and rashes. Many times the symptoms are just a nuisance, but for some may be life threatening. For others, the seasonal flares may also be associated with chronic conditions such as sinusitis and asthma. According to the CDC, there are over fifty million Americans who suffer annually from seasonal allergies.
Anyone may have or develop an allergy. Babies may be born with a sensitivity to milk, or others may acquire sensitivities over years. With repeated exposure to irritants, one may develop reactions as time goes by. The allergic reaction is a heightened response of the immune system to irritants. There are many chemicals released by the body during an allergic reaction, the most abundant being histamine.
Although allergies cannot be prevented, the reactions can be treated and possibly minimized. If you know your sensitivities, it may be possible to avoid some of them. Some other strategies include air conditioning or HEPA filters, especially in the bedroom. Eliminating dust mites and animal dander may help others.
Common treatments include medication therapies. Antihistamines such as Allegra (fexofenadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Claritin (loratadine) are a mainstay of therapy for many. Additional medications are also available, now without prescription, including inhaled nasal steroids such as fluticasone. Supplementary therapies exist for those of us who are not adequately controlled with these treatments. The next steps are commonly prescription medications, so seek the advice of your health care provider for assistance with these treatments. Beware, as there are many non-prescription allergy medications that may potentially conflict with existing prescriptions and other health care issues. It may be wise to have that visit regardless prior to self-treating with over the counter medications, as some may actually be dangerous to your health.
If control is still not adequately achieved, an additional option may be treatment with “hyposensitizaiton”. Commonly provided by an allergist or ENT specialist, the offending irritants are identified with lab testing. Once known, the serum is custom made to build resistance by the patient to the allergens with increasing dose concentrations over time. Historically this treatment was provided with a series of injections, but as technology moves on, this care may be available with a series of drops under the tongue.
There is NO reason to suffer needlessly from seasonal allergies as treatments abound, and your primary care provider is the first step to relief.
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine