Spring is here… 5 things allergy sufferers need to know
While Connecticut enjoyed a mostly mild winter, allergists warn that the 2016 spring allergy season will be worse than previous years. Add the presence of El Niño, and allergy sufferers will be caught in a “pollen vortex.” Dr. Jigisha Morosky, an allergist/immunologist with Starling Physicians, addresses the most common questions about seasonal allergies.
How do you know if it is a cold or allergy?
Sometimes it is difficult for people to determine if sniffles, sneezes, sore throat and coughs are caused by allergies, a cold or even sinusitis. Dr. Morosky explains that nasal allergy symptoms and common cold symptoms are essentially identical. Variables we examine are exposure to an allergen, like pollen or a pet, the duration of symptoms – months versus 1 to 2 weeks, and if there is improvement while taking allergy medications.
Spring allergies can cause itchy water eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, sneezing, coughing and even hives. The symptoms of a cold are often characterized by runny nose, sore throat and cough. Patients with severe seasonal allergies can feel very fatigued and have low grade fever (“hayfever”) making the distinction even harder.
Acute sinusitis is characterized by a stuffy or runny nose accompanied by pain in the forehead and/or over the cheeks. Often both the common cold and allergies can cause swelling of the nasal passages, which prevent the sinuses from draining, then this can lead to sinusitis. Sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, however it often recurs if due to uncontrolled allergies.
What are best over the counter methods to treat allergies?
To treat allergies, Dr. Morosky recommends long-acting, non-sedating oral antihistamines such as Zyrtec or Allegra. Over the past one to two years, nasal steroid sprays such as Flonase and Nasacort have become available over the counter.
Dr. Morosky explains that nasal steroid sprays are a lot more effective then antihistamines. They have an effect on multiple different mediators and cells including the actual allergy cells in your nose, therefore improving all of your nasal symptoms caused by allergies. Antihistamines only help with decreasing the effect of histamine, therefore provide inadequate improvement for many patients.
However, Morosky warns not all nasal sprays are the same. Nasal decongestant sprays such as Afrin, can cause physical dependence in as little as two to three days of use, i.e. your nose becomes addicted to Afrin. She recommends minimizing use of such sprays.
Are there effective natural remedies?
For those who are seeking a natural treatment for any type of sinus congestion, Dr. Morosky recommends nasal saline rinses like Neti Pots. They help rinse out all of the allergens in your nasal passages are that triggering symptoms, wash out mucus and decrease swelling of the nasal tissues. Nasal saline rinses are safe and effective and have been around for centuries.
Morosky says that while there is anecdotal evidence that taking small amounts of local honey every day has relieved allergy symptoms for some, it has not been scientifically shown to be effective in treating seasonal allergies. Honey does however help sooth a cough.
What is the best way to know if you have allergies?
Allergy testing is the most conclusive determination for allergies. Dr. Morosky believes that everyone can benefit from skin allergy testing. Most patients have more sensitivities then they realize. For example, a lot of patients believe they are allergic to tree pollen, but testing often shows they are also allergic to grasses and weeds.
What are benefits of allergy shots?
Allergy shots, or immunotherapy injections, are an option for anyone who has identifiable aeroallergen sensitivities. Shots are the most effective form of therapy since they actually change the immune system so that the person is not as allergic. They are especially beneficial for people who don’t want to take medications or those that have inadequate control despite medications. Additionally, injections are a great option for people who want a long-term solution.
Most people who begin to receive allergy shots start seeing improvement within 2 to 3 months. Unfortunately, doctors typically do not start patients on allergy shots during their allergic pollen season, as it can contribute to increased risk for allergic reactions to the shots.
Where can I get help?
If you think you suffer from allergies, the critical first step is to identify what is causing the problem. From there you can find the best treatment to relieve the symptom while trying to prevent the cause of the illness.
Dr. Morosky treats both adults and children in Enfield, Glastonbury, and Wethersfield.
To schedule an appointment, call 860-253-5330.
Click here to learn more about our Allergy Department