This spring and summer, make time to enjoy the beautiful outdoors in Northeast PA. But, for many, there is a price to pay for such pleasure…allergies! People often wonder whether or not the symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, and cough are due to illnesses such a cold, flu, sinus infection or allergies. The main distinguishing feature is that people feel very sick with illnesses, whereas often they do not feel ill with allergies despite the fact that they suffer from many of the same symptoms. In some patients, they may have both an illness and allergies, and sometimes their allergies predispose them to these illnesses.
An allergy is a response by the body, to a substance which is otherwise not necessarily harmful, but causes the body’s immune system to overreact and produce symptoms. These substances are known as “allergens” and trigger a wide variety of responses such as a runny nose, itchy eyes and palate and skin rash. Many senses can be affected by allergens such as smell, sight, taste, and touch and ranges from a mild irritation and inconvenience to extremely disabling and fatal.
Some sources estimate that 40 to 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies. Moreover, experts feel that the incidence is rising rapidly. Some explanations are: air pollution, dietary changes, chemicals and preservatives, and genetic predisposition.
The main offending allergens during the winter are dust mites, cats, dogs, cockroaches, and molds. These are known as perennial allergies or all-year-round allergens. Many people tend to stay indoors during the cold winter month, which makes them more susceptible to these allergens. If you suffer from sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, and cough when you start “spring cleaning” your home, then you may be experiencing mold and/or dust mite allergy.
Other common allergens are:
Air Fresheners and Scented Candles – If you notice that you sneeze, cough, or get watery eyes, every time you enter a room with these items, then you probably are having an allergic reaction to the many chemical substances in these products.
Alcohol – While not common, some drinks containing alcohol can be a source of allergens to those with sensitivity. For example, some wines and beer containing hops, barley, wheat and preservatives can create significant allergic reactions.
Animal Dander – This light weight allergen stays airborne for extended periods of time and is a common source of allergens for many
Allergy skin testing can be performed to determine whether or not you are susceptible to these allergens. However, a lot of allergy testing is done in the spring, summer, and fall when people with seasonal allergic rhinitis suffer most. Allergy testing, while valuable year round, is probably best done in the winter or early spring, when the offending pollens are not in the air, as it provides an extra layer of safety if you are not actively exposed to these highly potent allergens. In addition, if someone does have seasonal allergies, then the winter is a great time to start immunotherapy. The immunotherapy can be escalated during the winter months safely so that by the spring, summer, and fall, people do not react as briskly to the tree, grass, and weed pollens, respectively.
Allergy shots are effective in building up tolerance to these allergens, but also allergy drops administered under the tongue can be equally effective. In fact, allergy drops are safer than their shot counterparts and you don’t have to make repeated visits to the doctor’s office to get your allergy shot either. You can safely administer the drops under your tongue in the convenience of your home.
NEXT WEEK: TIPS FOR ATHLETES WITH ALLERGIES
Medical Contributor: Michael Freiman, MD, The Northeast Ear, Nose, and Throat Allergy Center located at 503 Sunset Drive in Dickson City, PA.
Sources: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Read “Health and Exercise Forum” by Dr. Paul J. Mackarey every Monday in The Scranton Times-Tribune. Dr. Mackarey is a doctor of orthopedic and sports physical therapy with offices in downtown Scranton. He is an associate clinical professor of medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.