Watery eyes? Sneezing? Runny nose?
Time to take action against seasonal allergies!
About 26 million Americans endure chronic seasonal allergies. The number of people with milder symptoms may be as high as 40 million according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The annual cost of “hay fever”, as it is commonly called, can reach 2.4 billion for medications and another 1.1 billion in medical office visit costs.
An allergy is the body’s reaction to natural substances in the environment. Your body produces histamine after being exposed to an allergen which then causes the allergy symptoms. Symptoms closely mimic those of the common cold and range from mild itching, sneezing and watery eyes, to severe hives, wheezing and shortness of breath. An extreme allergic reaction can lead to death from anaphylactic shock, where the person’s airway swells shut and blood pressure decreases. One difference between a cold and allergy symptoms is the length of time the person has symptoms. A cold typically lasts 7-14 days where allergies can last several weeks to months.
People are born with a genetic predisposition to allergies that can be “turned on” at any time in life. Some people do not notice any problems until they move to another location that may have an allergen they are sensitive to. You can also “grow into” them! Seasonal allergies are just that, they come and go through the different seasons of the year. Some people have year round allergies to irritants that are always around such as dust, mold, animal dander, and dust mites.
Treatment starts with prevention. Try to decrease your exposure to your known allergen. If it is dust, clean often; dog dander, limit or eliminate your exposure to dogs; tree pollen, use air filters and stay in air conditioning to help decrease the amount of allergen you are exposed to. You can also use a dehumidifier in the basement for mold allergies. Install wood or tile flooring instead of carpet that tends to hold in allergens. Minimize clutter that can collect dust. And people who have allergies to dust mites find covering their mattresses and pillows with covers help provide a barrier between you and the dust mites in your bed where they live and breed.
The next step in treating your allergy symptoms would be medication. Over the counter (OTC) antihistamines are widely used. Antihistamines block the histamine that is released by the body when it is exposed to an allergen. The most common antihistamine is Benedryl. This can cause sedation in many people. The most recent “non-sedating” OTC medication for allergy treatment is Claritin. The others commonly used via prescriptions are: Zyrtec, Allegra, and Clarinex. If you have glaucoma, difficulty urinating or high blood pressure, check with your primary care provider before taking medication. Note that it takes a long time for the antihistamines to work and immediate relief will not occur. Continue to take the medication daily to get the relief you need.
Steroid nasal sprays are also used to help alleviate allergy symptoms. The most common are Flonase, Nasacort, and Astelin. Many people are tempted to treat their symptoms with OTC nasal decongestants, but these should not be used for more than 3-4 days to avoid the “rebound” effect that causes the nasal passages to become even more congested than what they started out to be. These should only be used short term for nasal congestion associated with a cold, not allergies.
For an evaluation of your symptoms to see if you have the common cold or seasonal allergies, contact the UIS Campus Health Service for an appointment at (217) 206-6676.
Common symptoms of allergies:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy nose, eyes and roof of mouth
- Stuffy nose
- Pressure in the nose and cheeks
- Ear fullness and popping
- Dark circles under the eyes
UIS Campus Health Service (217)206-6676