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A Guide for Allergy Sufferers

Dr. Dennis Lipton

Estimates vary greatly but up to one in five Americans report seasonal allergy symptoms. While we welcome the warmer temperatures of summer many of us could do without the seasonal pollens that accompany the beautiful flowering plants.

Pollen season starts with the trees in spring and as summer progresses shrubs grasses and other types of weeds maintain the presence of pollen in the air through the fall.

Allergy symptoms can occur any time of year depending on the allergen.  If you are allergic to pet dander for example you will get symptoms whenever you are exposed. “Seasonal allergies” are most common in Eagle County in spring and summer. Allergy symptoms can include any or all of the following: itchy runny burning or red eyes congested runny or itchy nose itchy or irritated throat and sneezing. Difficulty sleeping or concentrating can also occur along with coughing to clear secretions from the mouth and throat. These symptoms are due to your body's reaction to the offending agent. It sees the pollen as an invader and activates your immune system which includes a release of histamine which is the cause of most symptoms. 

Relief for Allery Sufferers
There are numerous ways to combat allergy symptoms and you can probably find relief on the shelf at your local pharmacy. First generation antihistamines (diphenhydramine pyrilamine doxylamine clemastine and chlorpheniramine) work well but they cause drowsiness and they are commonly used as sleep aids. Second generation antihistamines are also effective for multiple symptoms and they have comparatively fewer side effects. They are now widely available and include brands such as Claritin Allegra and Zyrtec and their generic equivalents.

If your symptoms are more localized or if you prefer not to take pills numerous topical solutions are available. For example for itchy and watery eyes try antihistamine eye drops (examples include Zaditor Naphcon-A or Visine-A or generic equivalents). Nasal sprays including NasalCrom or Nasacort are effective for nasal allergy symptoms including runny congested nose and sneezing. They may take a day or two to work fully. If you need immediate relief from nasal congestion you could use a nasal spray like Afrin or a pill like Sudafed.

When to See Your Physician
If you are unable to get relief with these OTC products the next step is to see your doctor. There are prescription strength nasal sprays inhalers eye drops and oral medications that may be more effective.  Most of these prescription products contain corticosteroids that can cause side effects if used for long periods of time. An “allergy shot” as given by many physicians is simply a large dose of long-acting corticosteroids that will blunt your body's immune response to the allergen and give you immediate relief. It may work well in adults and children but repeated use is not recommended and it is not a good long-term solution for persistent symptoms.

When to See a Specialist
If symptoms are not relieved by the above efforts or if your symptoms are predictable and severe and you want to get to the root of the problem you may want to see an allergist. After the offending agent is identified an allergist can give you a series of shots that will eventually “cure” your allergies. Injections of the very thing you are allergic to will allow you to eventually develop a tolerance to the allergen.  After “cure” is obtained you need maintenance shots only every few months.

Alternative Remedies
In addition to medical remedies there are numerous “alternative” or non-medical remedies available. Nasal or sinus irrigation (“neti-pot”) is well tolerated and effective for many people. Think of it as simply “washing away” the allergen or irritant from your nasal cavity. The danger with this practice is contamination of the apparatus with pathogens that can potentially cause or prolong infection. Meticulous cleaning and sanitization is required after each use. 

Another solution that may be a little simpler is saline nose drops. This is similar to nasal irrigation but on a much smaller scale. Just use a few puffs of the saline spray in each nostril then gently blow your nose to clear the secretions.

Both of these treatments require only saline water there is no “medication” involved. Other homeopathic or herbal remedies may also be available but none of them have been proven as effective as the agents described above.

About Dr. Dennis Lipton - Internal Medicine  | (970) 926-6340
Dennis Lipton MD is a board-certified internist trained in the essentials of primary care and disease prevention and can help ensure patients receive the proper medical screening tests and immunizations.