Mansi Kanuga, M.D.
Immunology — Allergy (Asthma) Services
Speaking of HealthControl your allergies to enjoy the fall seasonSeptember 16, 2014
Seasonal allergies are nothing to sneeze at. About 25% of U.S. adults have some symptoms each year. Unfortunately, this condition brings sneezing, congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes and other symptoms that can make you feel miserable.
Here are answers to FAQ about seasonal allergies and how to manage them:
Q. What causes sneezing, itchy eyes and other symptoms?
A. If you have sensitivities to an allergen, your body's immune system mistakes it for something harmful. To fight it off, the immune system creates proteins known as immunoglobulin antibodies. These antibodies trigger cells in the nasal passages that release histamine and other mediators that lead to a stuffy and runny nose, watery eyes, itching and other allergy symptoms.
Q. What tests are necessary to confirm an allergy?
A. An allergy skin test can help determine if you're allergic to different things, such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, latex, penicillin or bee venom. It also can help diagnose skin allergies and some food allergies.
The most common form of skin testing involves pricking, or scratching, or an injection to expose the skin to a suspected allergy-causing substance. If a raised, red bump develops at one of the pricks, it indicates a likely allergy. Sometimes another form of skin testing, called patch testing, is used to help diagnose skin allergies. Treated patches are placed on the skin and watched for a reaction. Talk with your health care team if you suspect you or your child has an allergy that could be diagnosed by a skin test.
Q. What are some tips for managing seasonal allergies?
A. Don't let your seasonal allergy keep you from enjoying the outdoors this summer. A variety of over-the-counter treatment options are available to offer symptom relief, including antihistamine pills, nasal sprays and eye drops. Better yet, taking these medications before planned outdoor activity can help prevent symptoms from developing in the first place. Some medications can cause insomnia, elevated blood pressure or drowsiness, so watch for these side effects. You may need to try a few different medications before you find the one that works best for you.
You also can limit your exposure to allergens. Wear a mask outside when pollen counts are high. Resist the urge to open windows to let the breeze — and the pollen — blow inside your home. Don't use the clothesline to dry sheets or clothing because pollens and mold may collect in them. Consider staying inside on dry, windy days, and avoid gardening chores, such as lawn mowing, that stir up allergens.
Q. What is allergen immunotherapy?
A. Allergen immunotherapy is another term for allergy shots. This involves a series of shots given over a period of time to help familiarize the body with the offending allergens, thereby reducing the abnormal allergic response. This can be quite helpful in reducing symptoms related to environmental allergies for people with tree, grass, weed, mold, animal, insect or dust mite sensitivities. Allergen immunotherapy induces long-term tolerance, which means that people continue to enjoy a decrease in allergy symptoms and associated medication needs long after completing the full treatment course. Ask your health care team if you might be a good candidate for allergen immunotherapy.