Does pollen from blooming trees and flowers make your eyes water and your nose itch? If so, you are not alone. In recent years, there’s been a sharp increase in patients who suffer from various allergies for a host of reasons, including an overly hygienic lifestyle, lack of physical activity or a poor diet, according to Dr. Dat Q. Tran, pediatric allergist and immunologist affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
As a result of Houston’s warm winter, many allergy sufferers didn’t get much of a break from their sneezing, itchy eyes and runny noses caused by allergens. Physicians with the Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG) say they’ve seen a steady stream of allergy-related cases throughout the winter and into early spring.
“We’re seeing a lot of pollen-related allergies from grass, ragweed and trees, like oak, cedar and elm,” says Dr. Jerecia Watson, a family medicine physician practicing at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Needville.
Sublingual Immunotherapy is gaining favor among allergists and patients.
While some allergy sufferers may have no choice but to get regular shots to control their seasonal sniffles, there are a growing number of alternative options for those who qualify. Antihistamines and an emerging treatment called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) can provide a first line of defense. While allergy shots can be painful and inconvenient for many patients who have to take time out of their busy schedules to visit the doctor, with SLIT, patients can administer prescribed drops under their tongue at home. Although this treatment isn’t yet covered by insurance, many patients choose to pay for the treatment out of pocket to avoid a doctor’s office visit, or if they fear the needle.
“SLIT is a wonderful option for patients who can’t get shots or who simply don’t want to,” says Dr. Tran.
To make SLIT even more effective, Dr. Tran recommends speaking to your doctor about additional ways to administer the treatment, such as spraying the drops into the mouth to provide a wider dispersion of the allergens. An adjuvant or immune stimulator can also be added to the treatment to boost an immune response that would increase your tolerance to the allergens.
Try these other remedies to keep your allergy symptoms at bay.
Nasal washes. Saline rinses can be purchased at the drug store, or you can also use an irrigation device, sometimes referred to as a “neti pot.” You pour the water or saline solution in one nostril and, as it flows through your nasal cavity into the other nostril, it washes out the allergens. If you choose to use water over a saline solution, make sure you use distilled or boiled water, not plain tap water.
Avoid allergens. Depending on your allergies, you may want to consider cutting back on pet exposure. You can also cut back on allergens in your home by using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and changing your air conditioner filter every three months. Showering or bathing at night can also help reduce any allergens that may be on your skin. Additionally, if you like to exercise outdoors, try doing so early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Some studies have shown that pollen levels peak around noon. Check pollen levels in the area and if they are high for the day consider indoor exercise.
Cool compresses. Cool compresses can help reduce eye swelling. You can place a damp washcloth in the refrigerator or purchase a compress that’s safe to put in the freezer. The washcloth shouldn’t need more than a few minutes to cool off while the compress may need to sit overnight.
Over the counter medication. Nasal sprays like Flonase or Nasocort can be purchased over the counter. If symptoms don’t get better after a week with these medicines, there are a variety of other prescription medications that may work.
When is it time to see a doctor?
“If someone hasn’t found allergy relief after several weeks, it’s time to see your primary care physician. They can prescribe alternative allergy medications, or direct you to an allergist who could then explore options like allergy testing or allergy shots,” says Dr. Watson.
Patients should be aware that other causes, such as viruses and irritants, can produce symptoms that mimic allergies, adds Dr. Tran, including sneezing, runny nose, cough, congestion and a low grade fever. Usually symptoms due to viruses are not alleviated by allergy medications like antihistamines. Similarly, the lack of relief from antihistamines is a red flag that someone’s symptoms might be due to irritants such as smoking, smog or nerve sensitivity. Performing allergy testing to confirm you do not have an allergic trigger is the first step to managing your symptoms.
If you’re suffering from allergies with no relief, schedule an appointment with an allergist by clicking here.