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Understanding Allergies for Better Relief

By Buffalo Medical Group | July 12 2017 | Doctor Tips

With so many of us having allergy problems during the summer months, having an understanding of the problem can help allergy sufferers best deal with this annoying issue.

Where Do Allergies Come From?

Allergies tend to be genetic. If your parents had allergy problems, you’re more at risk of developing allergy symptoms sometime during your life. However, many individuals develop allergy problems with no such family history. An allergy is an exaggerated response of our immune system to items with which we have common contact – such as pollens, animal danders, dust mites and foods (such as nuts and shellfish). A large percent of allergy sufferers are children – many of whom show symptoms early in life but may “outgrow them.”
This article will discuss the two most common summer allergy issues – pollen allergy (hayfever) and stinging insect allergy (reactions to honeybees, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps.)

When Do Seasonal Allergies Occur?

According to Buffalo Medical Group Allergy & Immunology Specialist Dr. Andrew Green, in the Western NY area, tree pollen comes out as early as late April and runs through some of May; grass pollen appears in mid-May and runs until the end of June. By mid-August, goldenrod pollen (ragweed) appears , lasting until the first frost which is usually early October. The exact timing varies from year to year based on weather factors. The pollens are responsible for causing hay fever symptoms which are itchy, watery eyes and sneezing. Some individuals may experience asthma symptoms of chest congestion and wheezing.

Rainy, wet weather can often reduce pollen counts, making the outdoors more tolerable; however, rain also stimulates plant growth and can eventually lead to more pollen. If it’s continuously raining, the pollen will be suppressed from flying, but rain mixed with sun will contribute to plant growth and additional pollen, meaning more allergy symptoms.

How to Best Manage Seasonal Allergies

There are a number of ways to combat seasonal allergies—one of the best being to stay inside with the windows shut, using air conditioning so you’re not exposed to the outside air. For those of us who enjoy the outdoors, over-the-counter antihistamines are the best medication to fight allergies, and several are available in non-drowsy formulas.They work well when taken in advance of exposure to allergens and offer extended relief from symptoms. Nasal steroid sprays also reduce inflammation in the nose and are very effective when used regularly throughout the season. They are available over-the-counter, but you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using them and get proper instructions on using them most effectively. Some additional eye medications are over the counter and there are additional medications available by prescription only.

What to Try When Over-the-Counter Solutions Don’t Work

For significant allergy problems not controlled by medications, allergy desensitization treatments (immunotherapy) are available and can be quite effective. Immunotherapy is when small, incremental doses of the item to which one is allergic (inhalants, venom, etc.) gets administered into your system, often weekly for several months, then monthly for several years to maintain your tolerance to the allergy problem. Immunotherapy is available by injections or, for some pollen allergies, via sublingual (under the tongue) tablets, depending on the type of allergy. Immunotherapy can provide more long-lasting results.

Stinging Insect Allergy

This is a problem that tends to occur in the warm weather months when prevelance of bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets is more pronounced. There are three types of reactions to such stings. The first is a normal reaction, such as local irritation and discomfort at the site of the sting. The second reaction is a large, local reaction where the area of the sting swells and can remain uncomfortable for up to 48 hours. This type of reaction, while painful, for the most part is not cause for worry. The third reaction, which is cause for alarm, is anaphylaxis—when someone has an immediate reaction throughout their system. This reaction can include hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, and passing out. There are a small number of deaths per year caused by anaphylactic shock from such stings; anyone who has had this systemic type of reaction should be evaluated by an allergist for treatment. A recent national shortage of venom for testing and treatment is starting to ease. The normal reaction and large local reactions, for the most part, do not require much intervention. However, for those with a reaction throughout their system, they should be evaluated to see if they are candidates for allergy desensitization. The age of the individual and the type of systemic reaction (mild, moderate or severe) can influence whether they are candidates for allergy venom treatments. Allergy desensitization for venom allergy is often very effective. Individuals who have had a sting reaction throughout their system should discuss with their doctor the availability epinephrine auto-injectors.

In summary, summer allergies can range from a minor nuisance to a significant quality of life disrupter and even to a life threatening reaction. Allergists at the Buffalo Medical Group are available to evaluate and treat such allergy problems so those afflicted with allergy problems can have a safe and comfortable summer season. In Orchard Park are Drs. Andrew Green and Roland Honeine (656-4988) and in Williamsville, Drs. Aries Liu-Helm and Nalini Packianathan (630-1130).