Doc Talk: Don’t let allergies take control of your summer

06/19/2012 7:10 AM

08/08/2014 10:10 AM

Does the thought of stopping to smell the flowers make your nose itch?

If you’re one of the 35 million-plus Americans with seasonal allergies, it might.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis — or seasonal allergies — is the body’s immune system gone a bit awry. It’s an overreaction to an allergen, which is just a term for a substance to which you could be allergic. Most people who have allergies are allergic to things that can come and go with the seasons.

Why seasons bring on sneezing

Your immune system is like a bodyguard. It defends your body against foreign invaders. However, sometimes it goes on the defensive against things that are harmless, and that’s the essence of an allergic reaction: You come into contact with a substance, and your immune system overreacts. It starts releasing chemicals, such as histamines, to battle the invader. And those chemicals lead to an allergic reaction, with symptoms such as:

•  Sneezing
•  A stuffed-up or drippy nose
•  Itchy eyes, throat or ears
•  Watery eyes
•  Postnasal drainage
•  Chronic cough.

Two of the most common allergens are pollen and mold spores. Plants send pollen into the air with the hope of fertilizing other plants. Each plant has a period of pollination around the same time every year, generally starting in early spring and lasting through late fall. It’s much the same with mold, which begins releasing fertilizing spores as weather warms from spring through summer and fall.

Other factors that can affect allergies include where you live and the weather on any given day.

What you can do

You can lessen symptoms by adjusting your activities. For example, spend less time outdoors when pollen and mold counts are high. Check the local news reports or visit the National Allergy Bureau at http://pollen.aaaai.org/nab.

Other tips:

•  Close windows at night to keep allergens out.
•  Avoid freshly mowed grass.
•  Don’t rake leaves. It stirs up pollen and molds.
•  Don’t hang laundry outside, where allergens can collect onto it.
•  After yard work, change your clothes and take a shower.

Medication treatment of allergies includes various types of medications and routes of administration. Several over-the-counter medications are available at this time for control of allergies. These medications are generic and work just as well as the brand name:

•  Loratadine (Claritin)
•  Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
•  Fexofenadine (Allegra).

There are several prescription-only medications that can be more effective than the over-the-counter medications. If you are experiencing the symptoms of allergies and have not been able to control them with over-the-counter medications, it would be wise to visit with your doctor to see which treatment option would be most helpful for you. He or she can help figure out your specific allergens — and how to avoid them. Then you can work together on a treatment plan. That may include medications, such as antihistamines, and possibly allergy shots to calm your immune system’s response.

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