Who’s ready for allergy season?
Likely very few people are “ready” for the annual sneezing and wheezing period, but there are different measures you can take that may help alleviate your allergy symptoms in order to breathe easier during the warm months.
Allergies are more than a nuisance; unchecked, they can cause inflammation, infections, asthma, breathing difficulties, and potentially lead to life-threatening situations. Plainly it doesn’t pay to ignore or dismiss allergies or allergic reactions.
Further complicating matters are the effects of climate change. Dr. Angela Chan, an allergist at White Plains Hospital affiliate Scarsdale Medical Group, says those effects can be very real.
“Over the past number of years, we’ve been encountering changes that have brought about a prolonged allergy season, with its arrival earlier in the year,” Dr. Chan says. “Studies show that weather changes contribute to stagnant air and lack of air flow, and they definitely increase ozone, pollutant concentration, the strength of airborne allergens, and smog in urban areas.
“The air pollutants can trigger severe allergy symptoms, especially among those with asthma,” Dr. Chan adds.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kirk Sperber, an allergist at Scarsdale Medical Group, says that last year’s severe allergy season – at its height between March and November – brought varying degrees of misery. “Since 20% of the population has allergies, these and other symptoms will present frequently,” he says, noting that about 60% of those who do not smoke – but who have asthma – are allergic.
Both physicians recommend testing as a surefire way of determining if you are allergic, and to what. A skin test takes merely 15 minutes, and doctors can tell almost immediately the type of allergy you have.
“In cases of allergic rhinitis – allergies affecting the nose – we recommend pre-medicating consistently in March, beginning with oral antihistamines in combination with a nasal spray or saline rinsing,” Dr. Sperber says. “After some time, we may prescribe allergy shots or alternative immunotherapies. Over-the-counter medicines are not particularly effective.”
Allergic rhinitis can begin at any age, though most people first develop symptoms in childhood or young adulthood. The condition is triggered by breathing in tiny particles or allergens, with the most common being dust mites, pollen, spores, and animal skin.
“You can try Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin to see if they have an effect. Kids usually don’t want to do nasal sprays, even though they are more effective,” says Dr. Sperber.
For those who suffer from asthma or who already take large amounts of medicine, he adds that there are revolutionary therapies that include antibody treatments and steroids. Allergy shots are very effective, Dr. Sperber notes.
Dr. Chan advises that allergy sufferers take simple precautions besides medication. “Washing your hands and face, installing high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in bedroom units, keeping windows closed, and removing dust – all help to reduce particles that cause inflammation,” she says.
Dr. Chan also notes that the Hospital has seen an increase in patients wondering if they’re suffering from an allergy – or COVID-19.
“Patients are wondering if their runny and stuffed noses and scratchy throats are symptoms of COVID or something else,” she says, pointing out that such symptoms overlap. “But when you add fatigue, fever and chills, they point to infection rather than allergy – while sneezing and itchy eyes hint at allergies rather than COVID.”
Those suspecting either COVID or an extreme allergy should see their physician and undergo the appropriate tests as soon as possible.