What to Do for Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies affect more than 36 million Americans every year and cause a host of symptoms including nasal drip, itchy eyes and congestion. There are many ways you can manage your seasonal allergies that range from avoiding allergens to undergoing immunotherapy, depending on the severity of symptoms and the intended therapeutic outcome.

The Mechanism of Seasonal Allergies

The reason why so many people suffer from seasonal allergies is relatively simple—although a bit unsavory. Every year, plants like grasses, pine trees, and ragweed release tiny pollen grains into the air. These pollen grains are actually sperm cells intended to settle on another plant of that species and fertilize it, but during peak periods, pollen often gets inhaled.

In about 8 percent of the adult population, there is a serious immune response. The immune system mistakes the pollen for dangerous pathogens and produces antibodies specific to the pollen. The antibodies bind to white blood cells and await another pollen encounter.

If the pollen is detected again, those white blood cells initiate an immune response which begins with breaking open the white blood cell. This cellular breakdown releases histamine, a chemical that promotes inflammation. Tissue in the nasal passage, lung and eyes that become inflamed may produce mucus and induce sneezing.

The reason why some people have this reaction to seasonal pollen and others don’t is not well understood. Of course, there is a genetic component; some research has already begun to identify genes that may influence allergy responses. However, there are also environmental factors since allergy rates appear to be increasing in certain regions.

Avoidance Strategies for Seasonal Allergies

Before you initiate a course of therapy for your allergies, you should discuss all of your options with your doctor.  If your symptoms are mild, you may want to avoid medications or more involved immunotherapies. Instead, you may want to merely minimize your exposure to seasonal allergens.

  • Remain indoors—unless necessary, don’t venture outside. Weather seal all windows and doors.  Instead of using a fan that can circulate pollen, use the air conditioning system.
  • Watch the weather—in addition to monitoring the pollen count, you should also look out for periods of rain. Because the rain will clear the air of pollen, that is the best time to go outdoors.
  • Maintain hygiene—after you go outside, remove your clothes and take a shower to eliminate any collected pollen. After returning home, leave your shoes outside so that you don’t track in pollen.
  • Wear a mask—if you need to, wear a pollen mask when you go out.
  • Purify the air—in any room that you spend a lot of time, especially your bedroom, use an air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to eliminate pollen particles.

Self-care for Seasonal Allergies

In many cases, your doctor may recommend self-care treatments for a condition that is likely to resolve once pollen season ends. This may include the following:

  • Oral antihistamines—non-prescription drugs like Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra can help reduce your immune response to pollen which includes runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing.
  • Intranasal steroids—also available over-the-counter are nasal sprays like budesonide or fluticasone.  These offer comprehensive nasal symptom relief.
  • Sinus rinse—you can eliminate pollen from your nasal cavities by rinsing with a saline solution.  This should also help reduce any mucus buildup.
  • Decongestant—medications with pseudoephedrine reduce the inflammation of blood vessels in respiratory passages which in turn allows more air into them. Take care not to overdo it however; decongestants can raise blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Avoid certain foods—there are many foods that are similar to pollen in structure and that might initiate an allergic reaction including raw peaches, celery, oranges, tomatoes, melons, bananas or cucumbers.  If you cook these, this similarity to pollen is eliminated.
  • Monitor your reactions—everybody is different, and this includes how we react to certain allergens.  You may want to keep a journal of your good and bad allergy days, what substances you were exposed to and the severity of your reaction.

Medical Therapies for Seasonal Allergies

If you are one of the few seasonal allergy sufferers who does not respond to medications and continues to struggle with diminished sleep quality and work performance due to ongoing symptoms, then you may want to consider immunotherapy.  There are two kinds of immunotherapy: sublingual or subcutaneous.

Subcutaneous immunotherapy or SCIT involves injections of allergen material over a long period of time in order to build up a tolerance. In the initial phase, an injection is given weekly for a period of 3 to 6 months followed by monthly injections. The concentration of allergen is gradually increased over a period of 3 to 5 years. The specifics of this treatment depend up the patient’s age, specific allergen and severity of allergy.

The other kind of immunotherapy is sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT.  Instead of injections of allergens, SLIT employs drops or tablets placed under the tongue. A course of SLIT treatment lasts about 12 weeks. An initial session is performed in the doctor’s office so that the physician can monitor you for any adverse reactions. The most common adverse reactions include swelling of lips or tongue, throat irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or heartburn. The remaining treatments may be performed by the patient at home.

Both kinds of immunotherapy are extremely safe, but there is a very minute chance of a serious, possibly fatal, anaphylactic attack upon injection or ingestion.  In general, SLIT and SCIT provide similar efficacy of outcomes, but the sublingual immunotherapy appears to produce less adverse effects among patients.

Furthermore, sublingual immunotherapy involves less effort and pain for patients, making it a more preferable option in most cases. Not only are there fewer risks than subcutaneous immunotherapy because there are no injections, but there is greater flexibility; SLIT can be modified to target one or more allergens at a time and patients have the freedom to continue treatments at home. SLIT is also available to children and pregnant women.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

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