Mansi Kanuga, M.D.
Allergies are nothing to sneeze at. Mansi Kanuga, M.D., an allergist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing, Minn., answers some frequently asked questions about seasonal allergies and how to manage them.
Q. What causes the sneezing, itchy eyes and other symptoms?
A. Great question. If a person has sensitivities to an allergen, the body's immune system mistakes it for something harmful. To fight it off, the immune system creates proteins known as IgE antibodies, which protect the body from invaders that could cause an infection. These antibodies trigger cells in the nasal passages that release histamine and other chemicals. Histamine dilates the small blood vessels of the nose making fluids leak out into other tissues—thus the runny nose, watery eyes, itching and other allergy symptoms appear.
Q. What tests are necessary to confirm an allergy?
A. An allergy skin test can help determine if a person is allergic to different types things, such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, latex, penicillin or bee venom. It can also help diagnose skin allergies and some food allergies. The most common form of skin testing involves exposing the skin to the suspected allergy-causing substance through a prick (scratch) or injection. If a raised, red bump develops at one of the pricks, it indicates a likely allergy. Another form of skin testing involves placing treated patches on the skin and watching for a reaction at one of the patch sites. If you suspect you or your child has an allergy that could be diagnosed by a skin test, talk to your provider.
Q. What are some tips for managing seasonal allergies?
A. Don’t let your seasonal allergy keep you from enjoying the outdoors this summer. Take over-the-counter or prescription medicine prior to outdoor activity instead of waiting for the symptoms to appear. To use extra caution, wear a mask when out in the yard. Also, try to resist the urge to open windows to let the breeze — and the pollen — blow inside your home. And, don't use the clothesline to dry sheets or clothing as pollens and mold may collect in them. If you still find yourself suffering from symptoms, see an allergist. Some prescription nose sprays and eye drops can target your exact symptoms.
Q. What is immunotherapy?
A. Immunotherapy is another term for allergy shots. A series of shots given over a period of time helps familiarize the body with the offending allergen, thereby turning off the abnormal allergic response. It is helpful for people with tree, grass, mold or weed allergies. Children with seasonal allergies often are good candidates for this treatment and may help prevent additional allergies in adulthood. Check with your health care provider to see if you might be a good candidate for immunotherapy.