Are you sneezing yet? If you’re among the scores who suffer from seasonal allergies, it’s only a matter of time.
“Spring seasonal allergies are unique in the St. Louis area because we have a high burden of tree pollen, especially from oaks,” says Dr. Hamsa Subramanian of Signature Allergy and Immunology. These pollen allergies can cause a variety of symptoms, including allergic conjunctivitis, which is marked by itchy, runny or dry eyes.
Subramanian treats these complaints with a combination of common-sense advice and medications. Her recommendations include not rubbing the eyes, wearing sunglasses and staying in at times when the pollen count is high, particularly in the early mornings and evenings.
Over-the-counter eye drops may help, although some are not recommended for long-term use. “Patients who come to me for help with allergic conjunctivitis have usually tried everything available without a prescription,” Subramanian says. Fortunately, prescription eye drops are effective, safe and available in solutions appropriate for children, pregnant women and contact lens wearers.
Nasal symptoms—congestion, sneezing and drainage—are another common allergy complaint. Again, people often try various non-prescription remedies before seeking help from an allergist. In some cases, individuals choose the wrong type of medicine or use it incorrectly, which prevents maximum efficacy, says Dr. Douglas Berson, an allergist and immunologist with St. Luke’s Hospital.
He also notes that seasonal allergies may result in ‘hidden symptoms.’ “People can feel just exhausted,” he says. “Like an infection, the allergic response involves the release of inflammatory mediators in the body. Also, allergic rhinitis (nasal irritation and congestion) can interfere with sleep, and some medications can cause drowsiness or disrupt normal sleep patterns.”
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and whether the patient also suffers from asthma. In many cases, asthma control becomes more difficult when seasonal allergies flare up. The assessment and treatment of allergies and asthma go hand-in-hand, Berson says. In fact, board-certified allergists are members of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, recognizing the importance of asthma care in the overall specialty.
Allergy desensitization may be the best treatment for those who have severe, recurrent allergy symptoms. Natural tolerance is induced by introducing small amounts of the allergen via injections. “If symptoms last for several months and interfere with daily functions or quality of life, we consider allergy shots,” Berson says. “They’re relatively inexpensive, and there’s good evidence that they save money by reducing the need for acute medical care.”
To reap the most benefit from allergy care, treatment should begin before seasonal symptoms kick in. Patients seeking treatment this spring and summer will benefit from planning ahead for the next allergy season.
“I always tell my patients, ‘Just because you have allergies is not an excuse to lock yourself inside,’ ” Subramanian says. “Everyone should be able to get out to exercise and enjoy springtime. We have good, safe medications for all comers.” So seek treatment, and open those windows wide! LN