When we think of spring and summer, we think of flowers blooming, nice weather, outdoors, sports. But all of this can be interrupted if you are one of over 40 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma. Hay fever symptoms of ongoing runny nose, congestion, sneezing, itchiness, can make one miserable, while asthma can significantly limit everyday activities. About 23 million people, including almost 7 million children, have asthma. A staggering 70% of asthmatics also have an allergic trigger. It is often high pollen season in the Charlotte area, but before you stay indoors too long, consider these steps that can help you to feel better.
The main culprits are tree pollens, grass pollens, and molds. Dust mites and animal dander also play a role as year round allergens. In a survey of U.S. homes, approximately one-quarter had levels of dust mite allergens present at a level high enough to trigger asthma symptoms. Allergy testing by an allergist is the first step in identifying these triggers. This is usually best performed by skin or blood testing.
One step to feeling better is avoidance of offending allergens whenever possible. Some pollen and mold avoidance measures include closing windows on humid and windy days or showering after being outdoors. Bathing pets might help reduce exposure on high pollen days and can wash away pet dander. There are also measures that can be taken to lower dust mite exposure, including encasings for pillows and mattresses.
Treatment options can include antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops, and decongestants. Some asthmatics achieve symptom control on daily inhalers or other controller medications, which typically help reduce inflammation. An evaluation with testing will help determine the best medication regimen, if needed.
Allergen immunotherapy (individualized allergy shots) is the best method for achieving long term change of allergy and asthma symptoms. Immunotherapy the only allergy therapy that has been proven to prevent the progression of allergic disease, reduce the risk of developing allergic asthma, and provide long term remission after therapy ends. Studies show that with correct dosing and duration of immunotherapy, one can benefit as long as 10 years after completion. It also has a long track record of safety in children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Over time, there is typically less need for medications and health care utilization.
Allergies can have a huge impact on quality of life, but you do not have to be miserable. Remember allergies are a disorder of the immune system, so talk with a board certified allergist / immunologist who can help you develop a long term preventative plan with an individualized course of treatment. It is the first step in making the most of allergy season, and to living better.