Allergies, Allergies

Itchy, watery eyes?  Sneezing? Congestion?

TV ads will diagnose you and tell you how to treat yourself so that you can romp through a field of flowers after taking their product.

Seasonal allergies  affect more people in the springtime due to tree pollen, but allergies can happen every season.  Fall is ragweed season and until the first hard frost, some people are experiencing allergy symptoms. Some folks have year round allergies and could have an allergy to dust mites, molds, or pet dander.  Causes of non seasonal allergies can include food, insect venom, chemicals, and medication.

The relationship between allergies and your immune system

Our immune system is a wonderfully complex set of processes that protects us against bacteria, viruses and fungus – the things that get us sick.

Allergies occur when our immune system reacts to an innocuous substance such as pollen as though it was a pathogen, thus causing an inflammatory response.

Why does this happen? It is not completely understood why some people develop allergies but the answer probably lies  in your genes.  Your own risk of developing allergies is related to your parents’ allergy history. If neither parent is allergic, the chance that you will have allergies is about 15%. If one parent is allergic, your risk increases to 30% and if both are allergic, your risk is greater than 60%. The allergic response develops after repeated exposure to a substance so you may indeed develop an allergy to something you had no problem with in the past.

The allergic response is mediated by several chemicals released by your body including histamine, leukotrienes and cytokines.  These substances cause itching (histamine) and tissue swelling which leads to that nasal congestion and, when the inside of the breathing tubes are swollen, asthma.

Helpful Medications

  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, loratadine, cetirizine or fexofenadine are some of the over the counter medications commonly used to combat allergies. These medications are particularly helpful if the predominant symptom is itching. Antihistamines often have to be used with other drugs that block the effects of the other chemical mediators in the allergic response.
  • Prescription leukotriene inhibitors such as montelukast can be used.
  • Nasal steroids are often used for congestive nasal symptoms.
  • Inhaled steroids are often used in persistent asthma symptoms.
  • Oral steroids are occasionally used for severe reactions.
  • If you have an especially severe reaction, your provider may prescribe you an injectable form of epinephrine to use in the case of an emergency  so that you can then seek medical attention.

The best allergy treatment is avoidance  of whatever you are allergic to.  Educate yourself about your allergies. Learn to recognize the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and when to seek immediate medical attention.  Be proactive about taking over the counter and prescription medication early to keep your allergy symptoms under control.  If you have severe and persistent allergies, you may need to see an allergist and may need allergy shots.

Fear not – allergies can be managed and new medications are being developed all the time. Visit the allergy clinic at Campus Health to learn more.