for Allergy Season

Warning: Spring Allergy Season is in Full Swing

Although many people look forward to the end of what can feel like an eternal winter, for others spring means allergy season. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American1, allergies may affect up 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States, accounting for nearly 50 million Americans. That's a lot of tissues. So, what can an allergy sufferer do to make the season more tolerable?

Identify Allergy Triggers (Allergens):

Many people with allergies immediately think, "What medications can I use to reduce my symptoms?" While many, if not most allergy sufferers can benefit by taking at least one medication to reduce their symptoms, at least during the peak of their allergy season, there are many things that can be done to reduce allergies that don't require medical intervention.

The first, and probably most important step that any allergy sufferer should take to achieve relief, is to identify what causes their allergies. A substance that causes an allergic reaction is called an Allergen. Once an allergy sufferer discovers what they're allergic to, they can often avoid, or a least minimize exposure to the allergens, which can result in significantly reduced symptoms.

Allergens cause AllergiesCommon allergens include2:

  • Pollen
  • Dust Mites
  • Mold
  • Animal Dander
  • Cockroaches
  • Insect Stings/Bites
  • Latex
  • Food
  • Drugs

Determining what you or a loved one is allergic to can either be quite simple or extremely difficult. For example, if you get hives every time after eating a particular food, that is highly indicative that you have an allergy to that particular food, or an ingredient within it. With seasonal allergies, however, it's generally not so straight forward. Most often, a whole multitude of plants are pollinating at any given time within a defined geographical area, so determining the exact culprit can be nearly impossible. One alternative to discovering the exact allergens a patient is sensitive to is through blood and skin allergy testing. This testing is generally conducted by an allergy specialist, and can require an hour or so of time.

Reduce Your Exposure to Allergens:

Once identified, allergens can then be avoided, or exposure to them reduced. Some allergens are easier to avoid than others. For example, someone allergic to a particular food can take measures to avoid that food (although foods sometimes "hide" in certain products), and people allergic to cat or dog dander can avoid being around pets (although difficult if it means abandoning a beloved family pet). Those allergic to dust mites should ensure that their environment is clean and as dust free as possible. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist your medication allergies as to prevent accidentally receiving prescriptions for similar products in the future.

More challenging to elude, however, are environmental allergens such as pollen. Pollen is the most common cause of "seasonal" allergies. Pollen is a powdery, plant substance that represents the male gamete. Although patients have no control over what plants are pollinating at any given moment, they can take steps to reduce their exposure. It's important to monitor allergy reports for a patient's particular trigger allergen. Weather.com3 has a very basic pollen tracker, and many local television stations and allergy clinics have more specific pollen trackers.

The Mayo Clinic lists the suggests the following steps to help reduce allergen exposure4:

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
  • Delegate lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
  • Remove cloths you've worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Don't hang laundry outside -- pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
  • Wear a pollen mask if you do outside chores.

Medical Treatments to Help with Allergy Symptoms:

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies, but there are numerous avenues to treat and reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. For patients with extremely severe allergies, immunotherapy treatments are available. Immunotherapy5 involves exposing the patient to minute quantities of their specific allergens over time to reduce their immune system's response to future allergen exposure. Immunotherapy is generally administered either by sublingual (under the tongue) tablets or drops, or via injections. Immunotherapy usually requires several years to be effective. It can be quite effective, but requires significant time and can be costly.

Many allergy sufferers will need to take medications. The mainstay of allergy treatment is the use of antihistamines. First generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl© (diphenhydramine), are very effective treatments, but are limited by the severe drowsiness they can cause. The second generation antihistamines don't generally cause drowsiness and can still be effective at reducing allergy symptoms. The non-drowsy antihistamines include Claritin© (loratadine), Allegra© (fexofenadine), Zyrtec© (cetirizine), Xyzal© (levocetirizine), and Clarinex© (desloratadine). Clarinex© is available by prescription only, while Allegra©, Claritin©, Xyzal©, and Zyrtec© are all available over-the-counter. Zyrtec©, Allegra©, and Claritin© all have generic alternatives as well. All of the non-drowsy antihistamines are taken once daily. They are most effective if taken every day, at least during a patient's specific allergy season. All these antihistamines are considered equally effective, but certain patients will respond better to one product than another. If you try one product, and don't feel like you've gotten adequate relief, try one of the others to see if it works better for you.

OTC Antihistamines
OTC Antihistamines

For some patients, oral antihistamines may not be adequate to treat all their symptoms. For example, many patients suffer from nasal symptoms predominately, which may not adequately respond to an oral antihistamine alone. For those patients, it is often recommended to use a nasal spray steroid. Nasal steroids reduce local inflammation while producing fewer systemic side effects. The most common nasal steroids include Nasonex© (mometasone), Beconase AQ© (beclomethasone), Nasarel© (flunisolide), Flonase© (fluticasone), and Nasacort© (triamcinolone). All of these require a prescription except Flonase© and Nasacort©.

OTC Nasal Steroids
OTC Nasal Steroids

Likewise, some patients, despite using a daily oral antihistamine, will still continue having significant ocular (eye) symptoms. Fortunately, there are many eye drop antihistamines that target these eye specific symptoms, again, with few systemic side effects. The most common antihistamine eye drops include Pataday© (olopatadine), Patanol© (olopatadine), Zaditor© (ketotifen), Lastacaft© (alcaftadine), Optivar© (azelastine), Elastat© (epinastine), and Naphcon-A©, Opcon-A©, and Visine-A© (all three pheniramine/naphazoline). 

OTC Antihistamine Eye Drops
OTC Antihistamine Eye Drops
By reducing your exposure to your specific allergens, and using appropriate medical treatment, you can make this allergy season much more enjoyable. For help selecting a product, please speak with your doctor or pharmacist for recommendations.

1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website at: http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-facts.aspx
2. WebMD: Know Your Allergy Triggers website at:http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/allergy-triggers
3. Weather.com website pollen tracker at: http://weather.com
4. Seasonal allergies: Nip them in the bud, Mayo clinic website at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/in-depth/seasonal-allergies/art-20048343
5. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website: http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-treatments.aspx?gclid=CPeJ34XWq9MCFYuKaQodrPsM8Q