Treatment of Seasonal Allergies

First, before we get into the topic, a public service announcement.  Check out this website to learn about shelter boxes and how you can help provide them for the people of Japan.  This is not an entirely selfless addition to YesFive.  My fitness instructor (see above) is sponsoring a fundraiser.  My thought is that if I help him, he’ll go easy on me next week.

After writing yesterday’s blog, I can’t stop wondering — I know that life is unfair, that no one said it would be easy, etc., etc., etc., but … if humans were going to randomly develop an allergy to something, why did it have to be something as omnipresent as pollen?  To direct the focus to me, why couldn’t I develop an allergy to fat cells?  My body could mount a vicious offensive against fat cells at the very moment that I was downing my second pint of Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond.  Or, maternal guilt — a healthy overreaction to maternal guilt would significantly diminish my spending at both Toys R Us and the wine store.  What could be bad about that?  Let’s get off of me for a moment.   Why couldn’t criminals develop a severe reaction to gun residue?  Why couldn’t Lindsay Lohan mount a serious immune response to stupidity?  The list goes on.  Pollen?  Really?  I have so many better ideas!

Well, to use my favorite saying, “It is what it is.  What are you gonna do?”  If you suffer from allergies, you are going to avoid and treat.

1.  Stay indoors – This is a recommendation that I have heard time and again.  Unless there is a Law and Order marathon on TV, this is a terrible idea.  Some experts say that you should check the pollen count (which you can do at – no surprise – www.pollen.com) and if it is high (over 90), then you should stay indoors with all the windows shut.  This, to me, sounds like a great way to trade in your Zyrtec for some Zoloft.

2.  Change your clothes – This is a suggestion that I can appreciate.  If you have been outdoors for an extended period of time on a day with a high pollen count, drop your drawers at the door – literally.  Change immediately upon entering the house and wash your clothes in hot water.  There is no need to drag all of that pollen in.  Obviously, if there is one person in the house who has bad allergies, all household members should do the same.

3.  Allergen blockers – Anecdotally, I have heard these work well.  Long time allergy sufferers tout the benefits of these over-the-counter ointments that you apply to your nostrils.  They block the allergens from entering your nasal passages.  Parents especially like this option for their children.

4.  Alternative/Complementary treatments – There are some interesting non-pharmaceutical options for allergy patients.  My disclaimer is that just because something doesn’t have to go through the FDA, doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe.  Still, most of these substances seem pretty benign and there is good evidence that they work without a lot of side effects.  Check out butterbur as an oral tablet and a combination of goldenseal and nettles added to a saline wash.  Saline washes can be used several times a day and can be very useful in both removing offensive particles from the nasal mucosa, and thinning out the mucous.  Adding nutrients such as grape seed extract and quercetin to your diet has been shown to help.  Fortuitously, red wine is full of these nutrients.  Spicy foods can serve to thin mucous and give some relief.  Finally, avoiding foods that cause you any form of discomfort – be it an itchy throat or an upset stomach – can help alleviate your reaction to pollen.  If you are an allergy sufferer, take some time to research ways to control your symptoms in lieu of, or in addition to pharmaceutical options.

5.  Drugs – Gimme the good stuff.  In truth, there are some very good options for allergy relief at the CVS but none are without side effect.  And, because there are so many allergy patients, there are so many allergy medications – pharmaceutical companies are not non-profit after all.  The mainstay of allergy treatment are antihistamines.  The classic antihistamine is Benadryl which I used for sleeping pills in the hospital and when I am flying with small children.  Antihistamines can be taken orally, as eye drops or as nasal sprays.  Most of the over-the-counter antihistamines cause drowsiness but the prescription forms have less risk of this side effect.  Decongestants, like those you use for a cold, are effective at relieving the symptom of congestion and can be used in combination with antihistamines.  The combinations are available by prescription.  Nasal decongestants such as Afrin can only be taken for a few days or they will worsen symptoms.  Decongestants can cause an increase in blood pressure, insomnia and irritability.  Steroids can be very helpful and come in the form of nasal sprays, eye drops and oral pills or liquids.  If you have ever taken a steroid – not that I am saying you have – you know how amazing they are at controlling any inflammation in the body.  The problem with steroids is that long-term use, especially when taken orally, has some serious side effects such as weight gain, high blood pressure, growth suppression, bone thinning and more.  Nothing good comes without a price – what a downer.

Whoa… that last one was looooonnngg and deserved its own day.  I didn’t even cover bronchodilators and leukotriene modifiers.  Sorry, but I was trying to cram it all in on hump day.  I will be at an undisclosed location for the next few days working on some very important research projects.  Does good tequila give you the same headache as the cheap stuff?  Is it true that anything over SPF 30 is a waste? These are very important questions that need to be answered.  I’ll take one for the team and get back to you a.s.a.p!

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  • Jen

    I would love to hear your thoughts on food allergies. I developed a fish allergy in my 30’s and as I approach my 40’s, several blood tests later and a live challenge in the allergist’s office, I can now eat fish again, 5 yrs later.