You may be saying to yourself, “It’s spring, and I keep hearing on the news that this is the worst allergy season ever.” You’ll be bombarded with information on how to avoid pollen. Plus, you’ll see thousands of commercials showing you how this allergy medicine or that one will allow you to run symptom-free. Outside. In a field with your dog.
As an allergist, it’s hard to come up with new ideas to help when the pollen avalanche rolls over you. The tried and true standbys (which work, by the way) are avoidance, medications and allergen immunotherapy. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends staying indoors when pollen is at its highest, which reduces exposure and, therefore, your symptoms. Medications such as intranasal corticosteroids (nasal sprays) and antihistamines available without a prescription are effective but work better if used continuously during the spring, rather than just when symptoms occur. Lastly, allergen immunotherapy, either by shots or tablets you place under your tongue, can lead to long-term control by changing your immune system to “turn off” the allergic reaction to pollen.
Research continues in nasal allergies. Let’s look at some results from recent scientific studies published on hay fever, for example. We all know that allergies cause nose and eye symptoms, but it’s important to recognize other unpleasant effects that you can have with hay fever. A survey published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology showed that of 100 patients who had moderate to severe symptoms of hay fever, 66 percent of adults and 43 percent of children reported sleep disturbances. The survey found that those with moderate to severe nasal allergies compared to those with mild nasal allergies had significantly more anxiety, depression, tiredness and nervousness about social interactions.
How do your nasal allergies affect your work? Recent research found an estimated 3.6 percent of missed work time (absenteeism) and 35.9 percent of work performance problems (presenteeism) resulted from nasal allergies. The cost of absenteeism and presenteeism related to work was estimated to be 3.2- to 13.5-fold higher than direct medical costs, such as doctor visits and medications. Nasal allergies are more than a nuisance. They can worsen sleep and lead to increased psychological problems, missed work and high costs.
There has been a great deal of interest in climate change. What’s that have to do with spring hay fever? A lot! The increase in temperature and levels of carbon dioxide in the air lead to rapid growth of plants. With this rapid growth, the amount of pollen produced by each plant increases. Not only do we see increased levels of pollen in the air, but the pollen produced contains more of the allergy proteins which trigger hay fever symptoms. With climate change, the start time for plant growth is earlier each season, leading to early pollen production, so your symptoms will appear earlier each spring. In addition, pollen seasons can last longer and contribute to more weeks of misery for you. What can you do? Allergy sufferers should be involved in their community to lessen the use of fossil fuels such as by using public transportation whenever possible, as this helps improve air quality. Planting nonallergenic trees can lead to reduced pollen in the springtime air. Get involved with your government to demand policies to mitigate climate change.
Lastly, you may have heard that certain alternative therapies can be beneficial in treating nasal allergies. Unfortunately, there is not much good scientific research to substantiate that treatments like acupuncture, probiotics or traditional Chinese herbal treatments are effective. Hopefully we’ll see more research in the future that will tell us if these treatments work for treating hay fever.
[READ MORE: COPD, Asthma and the Environment.]
For the spring of 2019, it’s still important to follow the three-part approach to controlling your allergies: avoidance, medications and allergen immunotherapy, along with care by your board-certified allergist. But stay tuned, as new treatments are being developed for your nasal symptoms.
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