Allergy and immunology specialist, Luz S. Fonacier, MD, at NYU Winthrop Hospital, says that allergies and asthma are serious diseases and, “That’s nothing to sneeze at.” Dr. Fonacier adds, “Misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment can be dangerous, and allergies can lead to sinus infections, disrupt sleep, and affect the ability to learn at school or be productive at work.”
Seasonal allergies are usually caused by pollens from grass, trees, weeds, and ragweed, while perennial allergies are frequently due to dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and animal dander. In the Northeast, there are generally three pollen seasons: trees typically pollinate in early spring; grasses in the summer; and weeds and ragweed in the fall. Allergic reactions will be highest depending on which factors cause the most sensitivity. However, overlap of pollination and multiple sensitivities or allergies are common.
Of interest, Dr. Fonacier notes that more than two-thirds of spring allergy sufferers actually have year-round symptoms, and as many as 75 to 85 percent of asthma patients also have allergies. Allergic responses in the lungs can lead to symptoms including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Dr. Fonacier also points out that if you’ve never had allergies before, you’re not immune. “Anyone can develop an allergy later in life. In those cases, scientists believe that the allergy may have always existed, with the dormant allergy triggered by exposure to a new allergen.” If symptoms such as itchy eyes and nose as well as sneezing are persistent and last more than two weeks, it is likely due to allergies rather than just the common cold.
Avoiding Allergy Triggers
Dr. Fonacier recommends the following tips to avoid allergies:
- monitor daily pollen and mold counts
- keep windows and doors closed at home and in the car during allergy season
- use air conditioning to keep pollen out, and cool and humidify the air
- stay inside during midday and afternoon hours when pollen counts are highest
- take a shower, wash hair, and change clothing after working or playing outdoors
- avoid mowing lawns or raking leaves which stirs up pollen and molds
- if symptoms are severe, wear a mask for outdoor chores
- avoid hanging sheets or clothes outside to dry
- stay indoors when there’s dry, windy weather as wind spreads pollen and mold
There are many treatments available to ease allergy symptoms, including nasal sprays, oral medications, and allergy desensitization or immunotherapy by shots or by mouth. For asthma, there are inhalers, pills, allergy desensitization, and biologics.
“Treat early,” says Dr. Fonacier. “It’s best to stay ahead of the itching, sneezing, and wheezing. If you use nasal or oral antihistamines, steroids or eye drops for seasonal allergies, don’t wait until your symptoms are unbearable to start treatment.”
People who haven’t been diagnosed with seasonal allergies by a board-certified allergist should be cautious of over-the-counter medications as they can cause sleep disturbances and mental impairment.
Dr. Fonacier also advises against taking nasal decongestants for more than one week. “They have a rebound effect,” Dr. Fonacier says. “You keep needing more and more if you take them long-term. And people with high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid oral decongestants.”
There are also relatively new medications for allergies, including new combination antihistamine/corticosteroid nose sprays, as well as new delivery systems for allergy nose sprays including drier nose sprays, among other advancements.