Health Report: Relief from Seasonal Allergies
In San Diego, there are allergens in the air all year long. Spring is when grass, weed and tree pollen counts really start to increase, and the process can last through early summer. Pollen can trigger sneezing, congestion, itching and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as aggravate conditions such as asthma and eczema.
For mild sneezing and itching, start with over-the-counter oral antihistamines. Many products that used to require a prescription no longer do, such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. “These are non-sedating and very effective, and the generic versions are equally good,” said Katharine Woessner, M.D, allergist and immunologist at Scripps Clinic. “I recommend avoiding the first-generation antihistamines such as Benadryl that tend to have a sedating effect, because they can make you drowsy. And in children, they may impede their ability to learn in school the next day.”
If antihistamines don’t completely relieve nasal congestion, try adding an intranasal steroid spray that attacks the root of the problem by relieving the nasal inflammation caused by allergies. The safety profile of intranasal steroids is really well-established, which is why they are now sold over the counter.
If over-the-counter remedies don’t help, it may be time to consult an allergist. Some people think they have allergies when they actually have a sinus infection or other illness, according to Dr. Woessner. If your symptoms aren’t improving, make an appointment to find out what is really going on.
Allergy immunotherapy is the only treatment available that changes how your body reacts to allergens by administering increasing amounts of your allergens over time. Traditional immunotherapy uses injections and can be very effective.
However, treatment requires shots in an allergist’s office for three to five years, and you need to remain in the office for 20 minutes after each shot to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction.
For grass pollen allergies, sublingual immunotherapy may be an alternative. The FDA-approved treatment involves dissolving a tablet under your tongue every day. Though tablets do not have the same long-term effectiveness as shots, they can be taken at home without the risk of an allergic reaction.
“A lot of it depends on where you live,” says Dr. Woessner. “Near the coast, our frequent onshore breezes keep exposure to pollen down, but as those winds blow inland through the canyons, they pick up pollen and carry it with them.”
If you exercise outdoors, Dr. Woessner recommends exercising closer to the coast. If that’s not an option, try to exercise early in the morning before the wind picks up. Keep pollen out of the house by removing your shoes before entering and closing windows on breezy days. An indoor HEPA air filter can help remove pollen, dust and other irritants from the air.
For more information on this and other health topics, visit scripps.org/KUSI.