As seasonal allergy sufferers will tell you, the arrival of spring and warmer and longer days brings sniffles, watery eyes, sneezing and coughs.
It is because in the spring, seed plants shake off their dormancy to bud and flower and produce a powder called pollen, an allergen that causes allergic reactions.
Allergic reactions are the efforts of the body to remove and attack allergens. Histamines, produced by the body in reaction to the allergens, trigger those symptoms.
The good news is that those allergic to pollen – with ragweed pollen being the most common agitator – don’t have to suffer, for medicine and science increasingly offer better treatment and relief.
We can also take direct action to avoid allergens, and to remove allergens from the environments in which we live, work and play.
Plans of Action – and Treatment Options
When the pollen starts getting whipped up in the wind, it can easily find its way indoors where most people spend the vast majority of time. Fresh air is great, but if you have allergic reactions to pollen, an open window is not your friend.
Keeping the windows closed and using an air purifier with a HEPA filter will reduce pollen. Air conditioners can play the same role. Just be sure to change the filters in the air purifiers and air conditioners according to the frequency the manufacturer recommends.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications can provide effective but temporary relief from seasonal allergies. Two types of anti-allergy medications predominate: antihistamines, which reduce or block histamines, and decongestants, which reduce swelling in the nose, throat, and ear canal.
For those who have severe allergic reactions, steroids are sometimes prescribed to head off and lessen swelling.
Allergen immunotherapy, which was first practiced around 1915 in England and became mainstream therapy in the U.S. by the 1930s, is a longstanding medical method of treating seasonal allergies.
Immunotherapy treatment involves injecting a patient with a small amount of the substance (allergen) to which the patient is allergic. Not enough allergen is injected to bring about a full blown allergic reaction, just enough to stimulate the body to create immunity (resistance) to the allergen.
Over a series of visits to the allergist, the patient is given a gradually increased dose of the allergen. Eventually, the body becomes almost fully resistant to the allergen, and the allergen does not produce, or produces very little of, an allergic reaction in the patient.
An alternative to shots for the treatment of allergies caused by ragweed may be on the near horizon in the form of sublingual immunotherapy, a practice of administering the doses of the allergen in the form of “drops under the tongue.”
This therapy has successfully moved through all the clinical trials necessary before it is submitted to the FDA for approval.
Recently released in the Annals of Internal Medicine is a study that showed acupuncture works well in relieving allergy symptoms, especially when used in combination with anti-allergy medications.
Another line of attack against allergies is homeopathy. Homeopathic medicine is based on restoring the body and mind to its proper balance.
Focusing on good overall health, such as a proper diet that includes sufficient hydration, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise, allows for allergy treatments to work better.
The allergy symptoms that make us downright miserable when ill-nourished, tired, and out of shape, may be only a mild nuisance when we are in good health.
There is no need for those allergic to pollen to endure the nuisance or discomfort it elicits.
Our access to modern medicine and the knowledge of life choices we can make afford us protection from pollen, and prevent those sniffles, watery eyes, sneezing, and coughs.
Raied and Saad Dinno, brothers, are registered pharmacists and owners of West Concord Pharmacy, Acton Pharmacy, and Keyes Drug in Newton.