Health Tips & Articles

Seasonal Allergies

by Juan M. Gonzalez, MD

After a long winter, spring is finally arriving.  What does spring mean to you?  To me, it means nice weather, the re-emergence of green, flowers in bloom, and longer, warmer days.  Idyllic, right?  I agree, but nothing is perfect.

It is not rare during spring or summer to find your car or windows covered with a fine, yellow, powdery substance.   This is pollen.   If you are like me, pollen leaders to sneezing, a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and the use of a lot of tissues. The medical term for the condition causing these symptoms is “seasonal allergies”, “allergic rhinitis” or “allergic rhinoconjunctivitis”.

Seasonal allergies often start in childhood and may continue throughout life.  They are caused by the body’s reaction to substances called “allergens”, which trigger the immune system to react as though these allergens are attacking the body.  This systemic response is what causes the symptoms. Common allergens include previously mentioned pollen as well as dust mites (microscopic bugs that live in the dust), pet dander, and mold.

Allergy symptoms can include:

•             Runny nose

•             Nasal congestion

•             Sneezing

•             Throat clearing

•             Nose rubbing

•             Sniffling

•             Snorting

•             Itchy, red, runny eyes

How do we treat these symptoms? Well, you can reduce your exposure to allergy triggers and also use allergy medications. These approaches can complement each other and are often equally important.

Reducing Exposure to Allergy Triggers

You may want to remove the clothes your kids have worn outside; they may also need to shower to rinse pollen from the skin and hair.  Don't hang laundry outside as pollen can stick to clothes, sheets, and towels.  If possible, keep windows closed, particularly bedroom windows, especially at night or any other time when pollen counts are high.  Use the air conditioning in your house and car and keep indoor air dry by using a dehumidifier.

Allergy Medications

It is very important to work with your kids’ health care provider to find out which treatment approach is best and to determine if testing is necessary.  Diphenhydramine (also known as Benadryl) is a great medication for allergies; it is one of the original “anti-histamines”. Its effects only last for about 6 hours, however, and it can cause sleepiness.

There are other newer generation anti-histamines, which typically cause fewer side effects and can last up to 24 hours.  Ask your child’s provider if these medications are right for him or her.

For severe allergies, there is yet another alternative, which is called a nasal steroid.  A nasal steroid typically offers the best results in terms of controlling allergy symptoms.  If you or your child tries a nasal steroid, take into consideration that it might take up to three weeks for its full effect to appear.  It might be better to start using this medication early in the season so that you are prepared for the spring and summer. Also, remember to use it daily even if the symptoms are well controlled; it is not intended for “as needed” use.

You and your kids have been indoors for too long. As soon as the weather permits, take the kids out, go to the park, go hiking, or let them ride their bikes (and do not forget the helmet).  Have a safe, fun spring and summer.  And, by following my advice, you can hopefully avoid too many achoos!

 

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