Elizabeth Baker, M.D.
Park Ridge Family Medicine
Summertime: the kids are out of school, BBQs are fired up, vacation plans are made, and allergies are in full swing. For many people, allergies can really put a damper on their enjoyment of the season. Common allergies:
- Allergic Rhinitis or “Hay fever”—runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, scratchy throat, itchy ears, watery or itchy eyes, postnasal drip, cough, and fatigue
- Allergic conjunctivitis or “Allergy eyes”—itchy, red, watery eyes and swollen eyelids
- Allergic dermatitis—itchy, hive-type reaction to an exposure such as grass, animals, etc.
- Allergic bronchitis—chronic cough, chest tightness and wheezing associated with an allergy exposure
About 1 in 5 Americans experience hay fever. Symptoms can range from mild and annoying to severe enough that afflicted people miss work and school. They are more prone to sinus infections and lung problems. Thankfully, there are many treatments that can help:
- Decreasing exposure can make a big difference. Closing windows at home and work, wearing a mask when doing yardwork, and avoiding exposure by making the kids mow the lawn can be very effective. People may carry many pollen particles and allergens on their skin and clothing, and pets get lots of pollen stuck in their fur if they are outdoors. Showering before getting into bed (and having your pets sleep outside of the bedroom or bathing them frequently) can help.
- Certain herbal treatments can have benefit. Small studies show that using Butterbur, Fermented Red Ginsing, or Benifuuki green tea can help with allergy symptoms when taken regularly.
- Saline nasal irrigation (the Neti pot or Neil Med Sinus Rinse) helps to alleviate symptoms and rinses allergens from the nasal passages.
- Nasal allergy sprays—sold under names such as Flonase, Nasacort and Nasonex or their generic equivalent—are safe for adults and kids to use every day, and are considered the most effective choice for treating nasal allergies (runny nose, congestion, sore throat). Remember that these can take a few days to kick in. Don’t confuse these with decongestant nasal sprays such as Afrin or Neo-Synephrine, which should never be used for more than a few days at a time.
- Traditional antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Chlortrimetron, are effective, but tend to cause sleepiness and only work for 4-6 hours at a time.
- Non-sedating antihistamines, such as Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, Xyzal (all also available as generics) are effective medications, and most are available at your local drugstore without a prescription. These work for nasal allergies, as well as skin and eye allergies. These are sometimes sold in preparations that contain a decongestant (similar to Sudafed), so look at labels before you mix with other medications.
- Allergy eye drops can help eye symptoms very quickly. Zatador and Opcon-A are specifically for allergies—they help to treat the reaction instead of just covering up “red eye”.
When allergies are severe or are not responding to conventional over-the-counter treatment, it is time to see your primary care doctor. There are prescription medications and other treatments available, as well as allergy testing.