By Theresa Woodard, internal medicine practitioner at Harbor of Health
Spring is a beautiful time of year, but it can be a difficult time for people with chronic or seasonal allergies. As everything starts blooming, environmental allergies begin to flare up due to tree pollen, flower pollen, grasses and molds.
Unfortunately, news reports say this spring is going to be an especially tough allergy season in the Mid-South – but you don’t have to suffer!
“Springing forward” on the clock means it’s time to visit Harbor of Health and follow some preventive measures and treatments recommended by your primary care physician. By taking charge now, you can ease or prevent classic allergy symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and nose, and dark, puffy circles beneath your eyes.
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if your symptoms make it hard to work or sleep, if over-the-counter drugs don’t help, or if you get a lot of sinus or ear infections during allergy season.
Primary care physicians can help address the symptoms of allergies and can direct patients to an allergy/immunology specialist for allergy testing.
An allergy blood test – also called an in vitro test – can detect and measure antibodies in your blood related to specific allergens. These antibodies cause the release of chemicals, and those chemicals in turn cause allergy symptoms. Blood tests can identify many of the most common allergy culprits, like dust, pets, trees, grass, weeds and mold.
Doctors also use skin pricks – or puncture or scratch tests – to diagnose allergies. These tests, which are usually done on the forearm in adults, check for instant reactions to up to 40 different substances, including pollen, mold, pets, dust mites and various foods.
Both tests are very accurate.
Once your doctor has an idea of what allergens are making you miserable, he or she can help with a treatment plan or refer you to an allergist.
Lifestyle adjustments are often part of the plan. Here are some steps I suggest to my patients:
- Build your immunity: Eat more fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, D and B6 to help rev up your immune system.
- Take your meds: Request a prescription with a few refills to get you through the rough allergy months.
- Use HEPA filters and air purifiers: These products filter out harmful particles like pollen, pet dander, dust mites and smoke so you don’t breathe them in. Make sure any air purifier you buy is adequate to purify the air in the whole room in which it is used.
- Consider carpet care: Vacuum frequently, or switch to wood, tile or vinyl floors.
- Keep up on laundry: Wash bedding, including your pillow covers, sheets and comforters, often. Change your sheets every week, and make sure wash them in hot water.
Your doctor can also give you advice about which over-the-counter drugs to try for relief from symptoms, or write you a prescription if those aren’t working. There are a variety of options, including nasal sprays, antihistamines, eye drops and decongestants.
There’s also the longer-term option of allergy shots, or immunotherapy. In this treatment, small amounts of the allergen are injected over time, which creates the antibody response. Eventually, the immune system changes, and the patient will no longer be allergic. It can take time, however – possibly three to five years.
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms or if you know you have spring allergies, it is best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor to get pointers on how to reduce your suffering.
As April brings in the fullness of spring, make sure you can enjoy it by taking care of your allergies first. Allow yourself to stop and smell the flowers, sneeze-free.