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Itchy eyes, sneezing and wheezing oh my!

The good news is that spring is in the air. The bad news is that with that comes pollen in the air, too. As the trees and flowers start to bloom with spring’s arrival, the pesky pollen count also starts to climb.

For many allergy sufferers, the beauty of spring also comes with the brutal effects of seasonal allergies.

When the immune system overreacts to particles – known as allergens – in the air that you breathe, allergies occur. The immune system’s reaction to the allergens causes those dreaded allergy symptoms.

Carolyn Cooper, MD, medical director at the Center for Healthy Living, explained that the common causes of seasonal allergies are windblown pollens from trees, grass and weeds. Some types of mold also occur seasonally and may cause similar symptoms. Mold can live in damp places like basements, bathrooms, refrigerators and window sills. Outdoor mold can live on soil, plants, rotting wood or dead leaves.

“Anything can be an allergen if you are sensitive to it,” she said. “Histamine response is the same, so there is no difference in indoor versus outdoor allergies except for the allergens to which you are exposed. Dust is a common allergen and is ubiquitous.”

Prevalent symptoms of allergies are sneezing repeatedly, runny nose, watery eyes, light sensitivity, rash, hives and itchy ears, nose and throat. Other symptoms, according to Cooper, include not sleeping well, long-lasting cough, pressure in the ear and/or having difficulty hearing, discomfort in face and dark circles under the eyes called allergic shiners.

And nobody has time for that.

“Many people who have allergies may also have asthma,” said Cheryl Laszynski, RN and certified asthma educator at the Center for Healthy Living. “Knowing the symptoms and triggers of each can help you live more comfortably.”

Laszynski offers some tips to help avoid allergy attacks.

“The best way to avoid an allergy attack is obviously to avoid allergens to which you are sensitive,” she said. More specifically:

  • To avoid allergens like pollen, for example, you may need to stay inside when the pollen levels are high.
  • Often to avoid outdoor allergens, you’re advised to close windows and doors both day and night, use air conditioning to lower the pollen in the home and avoid fans with an open window.
  • You might also avoid mowing the grass or wear a dust mask and use an antihistamine before mowing.
  • It is also recommended you shower and change clothing after working or playing outside.
  • You can avoid mold by not going outside on windy days and avoiding gardening.

Recommendations for treating allergies, Laszynski said, include over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines such as Claritin or Benadryl, decongestants, steroid nasal sprays like Nasacort and combination antihistamine/decongestant products such as Actifed. If the OTCs do not improve the symptoms, your provider may prescribe medications to help relieve the symptoms. Be aware that depending on your health concerns, certain medications can make your condition more severe (i.e. decongestants may make high blood pressure worse).

“As with any medication, always read and follow the instructions on the label,” Cooper said. “If you have questions about your medications, ask the pharmacist, your doctor or you can schedule an appointment with the pharmacist at the Center.”

If you believe you suffer from allergies, the Center for Healthy Living can help.

Patients who are having frequent and severe allergy symptoms may meet with a provider at the Center to discuss their concerns and the types of OTC treatments they might have already tried.

“The provider will evaluate the patient's symptoms, reoccurrence and response to medication, both OTC and prescriptions,” Cooper explained. “Depending on the evaluation, a patient may be referred to an allergist and possibly the start of allergy testing to determine his or her individual triggers.”

Cooper said there are two types of allergy testing. Skin testing – which is more sensitive and is performed by an allergist – and RAST testing, which is a blood test that looks for the Immunoglobin E levels to certain allergens. The RAST test can be done at the Center for Healthy Living.

If testing results require allergy injections, the Center can assist there by providing allergy injections per the referral and approval of the patient's allergist. A patient wishing to have their allergy shots at the Center will need to discuss with their allergist and complete an allergy documentation packet. Once those steps are completed and approved, the patient can begin receiving allergy shots at the Center following their initial shots at the allergist’s office. There is no charge for receiving allergy injections at the Center.

For more information/education on seasonal allergies and asthma, you may schedule an appointment by calling the Center at 40111 or via the patient portal. The Center is open for appointments 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

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