Local Conditions

The Rites of Spring

Stravinsky had other things in mind when he wrote, “The Rites of Spring”.  For many, however, the rites of spring (and summer and fall) includes sneezing, nasal congestion and eye itching.  These symptoms, often called “hay fever”, are seasonal allergies due to the reproductive cycle of plants and mold which results in the dissemination of pollens and spores in the atmosphere.  Allergies are in a sense an over-reaction of the body to foreign substances which are perceived as being potentially harmful.  This form of response actually is an important defense mechanism in parts of the world where parasitic infestation is a problem.  In effect, the body reacts to pollen and molds as if they were parasites, with good intention but harmful results!

Allergies vary from being a mild nuisance to disabling, with extreme itching of the nose and/or eyes, roof of the mouth, throat and ears.  They often can involve great fatigue due either to the hay fever itself or medications used to combat it.  They can be associated with other respiratory illnesses, giving rise to sinus or recurrent ear infection and also may be associated with asthma.

If symptoms are mild, they may be tolerable even without treatment, or may be reduced satisfactorily by the occasional use of antihistamines, many of which are sold over-the-counter.  Antihistamines make many people sleepy, and may not be tolerated or may be ineffective.  They are best used a preventatives — that is, antihistamines are most effective if used in anticipation of symptoms rather than after symptoms have begun.  In recent years, various other medications including the newer none sedating antihistamines, nasal sprays that contain weak anti-inflammatory agents, and drugs which block the release of histamine a nd similar chemicals which actually are responsible for allergy symptoms, have become available.  These can be used safely under medical supervision for prolonged periods of time with virtually no side-effects.

If symptoms are severe, the cause of the allergies should be determined with the aim of eliminating sources of allergens where possible, and, if necessary, immunizing against the non avoidable allergens to decrease sensitivity to inadvertent exposure to them.  Any evaluation should involve a thorough history and appropriate physical examination, and allergy tests (usually “skin tests”) for detecting allergic antibody.  Although other kinds of allergy blood tests (sometimes called RAST tests) are available and have been highly publicized in recent years, unfortunately they still are less sensitive and less revealing
than skin tests.  Because of this and the fact that they are less cost-effective, skin testing is preferred to the blood tests by the vast majority of knowledgeable allergists certified as experts in this field by The American Board of Allergy and Immunology.  Allergy tests and allergy immunization procedures are under constant research and refinement.

Here are simple procedures for hay fever sufferers to do for themselves:  Keep the windows in the bedroom closed overnight where feasible to cut down overnight pollen and mold exposure, keep any clothes used for gardening or playing outside during the day out of the bedroom at night, and shower at night, thereby minimizing pollen and mold exposure in the bedroom.  (The average person spends a third of his or her life in the bedroom!)  Air conditioning is a useful device to filter pollens and molds and decreases exposure to these allergens.  It is wise to remember that exposure to allergens and irritants ordinarily tolerated the rest of the year, but present indoors, may greatly intensify symptoms from exposure to the seasonal pollen and mold allergens, and avoidance of these substances during the hay fever season is helpful in diminishing symptoms.  This is particularly true of animals which not only can induce symptoms themselves, but carry pollens and molds indoors as well.  Consequently, it is especially important to keep animals out of the bedroom in particular, and out of the house as much as possible.

Finally, the impact of allergies on function at school and at work, and on general well-being including fatigue and irritability should not be underestimated.  Help is available, and there is no reason to suffer!



Prepare for a Sneeze and Wheeze-Free Holidays

The holiday season, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the “most stuffiest” time of the year for the more than 40 million Americans that suffer from allergies and asthma. By planning ahead and treating symptoms before they start, you can enjoy a sneeze and wheeze free holiday season.

Allergy and asthma triggers can be difficult to escape during the holidays.  Visiting family and friends, exposure to burning candles, strong odors, indoor pets and dusty holiday decorations can all serve as triggers for increased allergy and asthma symptoms.

Insure that your holidays are enjoyable and symptom-free by following these tips:

  • Be Selective with Decorations: Everyone loves a festive home, but watch out for hidden allergens that can lurk in the decorations. Decorations may be dusty and loaded with allergy-triggering dust mites especially if they have not been stored in airtight plastic containers. Some people are allergic to terpene found in the sap of Christmas trees, or are bothered by the mold that lurks on the trees. Consider artificial trees, wreaths and garland. Also watch out for poinsettias which can be problematic for people with latex allergies since the plant is part of the rubber tree family.
  • Be Alert for Hidden Food Allergens: Food allergens can show up in the strangest places- peanut butter in chili, ground nuts in pie crust, shellfish in stuffing, even turkey can be a landmine. Allergens in the stuffing can absorb into the meat, so try cooking the bird unstuffed. Also stick to a natural turkey, which contains only turkey and water, since self-basting turkeys can contain soy, wheat and dairy.
  • Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice: Pine-scented candles and strongly scented air-fresheners can provide and inviting aroma, they can also act as  a trigger for increased allergy and asthma symptoms. About one-third of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Studies show VOC exposure even below accepted levels can increase the risk of asthma in children. Open the windows to air out the house, or let the scents from the oven provide natural aromas.
  • Beware of the Thanksgiving Effect: Even if you can tolerate your own cat or dog, you may find yourself sneezing and wheezing when you return from visiting friends or relatives homes for the holidays. This flare-up of pet allergies in called the Thanksgiving Effect. Pretreat with medications that your allergist has prescribed before visiting homes known to have pets that you are allergic to.
  • Allergen Free Home Sweet Home: Change furnace filters at least monthly, make sure fireplaces and wood burning stoves are well vented to prevent fine particulate matter from entering your living spaces, do not allow anyone to smoke cigarettes or cigars indoors and use artificial Christmas trees and garland to help reduce the indoor allergens and irritants that can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.
  • Preventive Measures Work: Talk with your physician regarding preventive treatment that may include avoidance of triggers and medications. If you haven’t already done so, get your flu shot, maintain a healthy diet, get plenty of rest and avoid as much stress as possible.

Have a happy, healthy sneeze and wheeze-free holiday season!

Springing Into Allergies

It’s a beautiful day: blue skies, blooming trees, the grass is greening and the air smells fresh and fragrant with spring flowers. It’s the kind of day that makes most people want to go outdoors to enjoy the season.

If you are the 1 in five Americans (55 million people) who have “hay fever,” the onset of spring brings symptoms of sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and itchiness in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears. Allergic rhinitis, another term for hay fever, is triggered by “allergens,” substances that initiate the allergic response. Outdoor allergens would include grass, tree and weed pollens as well as mold spores. Allergic rhinitis is also triggered by common indoor allergens, such as animal dander, indoor mold, cockroaches and dust mites. More