Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fight back against allergies

YOUR HEALTH | By Katie Murdoch
Herald writer
Those with allergies don’t have to spend the spring and summer months with itchy eyes and sore throats associated with hay fever.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction typically caused by tree, grass and weed pollen that mostly affects eyes, nose, sinuses and the tube connecting the middle ear with the back of the throat.
Tree pollen dominates the Northwest from mid-February to late April, followed by grass pollen from mid-May to its peak in July, said Dr. Jennifer Lee, an allergist at The Everett Clinic.
Allergic reactions are caused when the body believes it needs to protect itself from an allergen. To fight back, cells release histamine, which causes tissues to itch, swell and create more mucus and tears.
Some people put up with their allergies, unaware there are resources available to them, Lee said.
“They shouldn’t have to do that,” she said. “My goal is to get them as close to symptom-free as possible.”
Treatment options run the gamut, including over-the-counter products, prescription medications and allergy shots, depending on the severity of one’s symptoms.
Patients with mild symptoms can likely power through allergy season, said Dr. Anand Patani, an internal medicine physician at Swedish/Edmonds. But those with moderate to severe symptoms can work with a physician to come up with a suitable treatment.
“It has to be tailored to the individual,” Patani said.
Over-the-counter anti-histamines, like brand names Claritin and Allegra, soothe mild allergy symptoms.
Physicians recommend decongestants for moderate to severe symptoms. These are packed with pseudoephedrine and are found in the brand name Sudafed.
Eye drops are a quick remedy to ease itchy eyes that are often ignored by those self-treating their allergies, Lee said. She recommends buying eye drops containing the active ingredient ketotifen, which is a histamine blocker.
For severe symptoms that affect sleep and daily activities, people should consult with their doctor for prescription nasal and oral sprays designed to decrease allergic inflammation.
Allergy shots are recommended for people with allergies to pollen, pet dander and dust mites, according to the Kids Health website. Allergy shots pump allergens into one’s system to help the body gradually develop antibodies, which will lessen severe symptoms.
“It’s a powerful way,” Lee said. “You have relief and symptoms are cut down a few notches. It’s something to consider.”
Medicines aren’t the only way to reduce and prevent hay fever symptoms. The Everett Clinic recommends wearing a mask over one’s nose and mouth when doing yard work or cleaning; frequently vacuuming floors and furniture; and showering each evening to remove allergens from hair and skin.
Avoidance is another option. Lee advises patients to keep windows shut to avoid pollen and take medication before going outside for long stretches.
If someone can pinpoint a specific allergen – grass, for example – it will certainly help improve one’s quality of life, Patani said.
“It’s not feasible to avoid grass, but you shouldn’t be the one in the family mowing the lawn,” Patani said.
Avoiding allergens
• Keep family pets out of certain rooms, like your bedroom, and bathe them if necessary.
• Remove carpets or rugs from your room (hard floor surfaces don’t collect dust as much as carpets do).
• Don’t hang heavy drapes and get rid of other items that allow dust to accumulate.
• Clean frequently.
• Use covers to seal pillows and mattresses if you’re allergic to dust mites.
• If you’re allergic to pollen, keep windows closed when pollen season is at its peak, change your clothing after being outdoors – and don’t mow lawns.
• If you’re allergic to mold, avoid damp areas, such as basements, and keep bathrooms and other mold-prone areas clean and dry.