Log in

Log in

By logging in to this web site you agree that you have read and agree to Project Life's terms of use, privacy policy, and author agreement.

Your API connection setting not working. try to change setting from module option or check your php.ini settings for (cURL support = enabled OR allow_url_fopen = On)

How to Take Charge of Your Allergies

Written by Meghan Connelly, MD.

Fall and Spring can be miserable time for some people as their seasonal allergies can make life difficult...they can leave you sniffling, rubbing itchy eyes, and, after restless nights of coughing and sneezing, feeling run-down and tired the next day.

But, there are things you can do to help cut down on your symptoms and make you less miserable during your peak symptomatic periods.

How do I figure out what’s causing my allergy symptoms?

You can be pro-active in diagnosing the cause your symptoms. This doesn't always require a doctor’s visit, blood work or skin testing. You can simply begin by paying attention to when your symptoms flare and what seems to irritate you the most. For example, are you most symptomatic at a certain time of year when the pollen count is high, a certain tree or flower is blooming, after being in a dusty house, when cutting the grass, or handling fresh cut flowers? This may be the answer to what is triggering your misery. There are some people who have “perennial”, or year-round, symptoms from their allergies. These triggers can be such things as animal dander, cockroach exposure, dust mites, or mold, and can be much more difficult to identify. However, noting when your symptoms are most active and the environment that you’re in when your allergies flare will help clue you in to your allergic triggers.

First goal is to identify the trigger to your allergies so that you can limit your exposure to the allergen.

Identifying what is irritating you is half the battle because you can work to simply limit your contact with this irritant. Your next step is to try to cut down on your contact with whatever is causing your symptoms. This is often easier said than done. But, there are a few steps you can take to help minimize your symptoms once your particular irritants are identified. 

How do I minimize my exposure to irritants?

You should wash your hands each time you come in from outside. This limits the amount of the allergen you bring inside or potentially rub on your face or clothing.  After large allergen exposure, such as mowing the grass, it can be helpful to shower and keep clothing exposed to allergens in an isolated place in the house such as a laundry room. And, if you have severe allergies, it may be even best to avoid outdoor activities when pollen counts are high in your area. If you have severe and debilitating allergies, you can consider asking your spouse to help with or ”take over” the yardwork, hiring someone to mow your grass, or choosing alternative activities (e.g. go to the gym and take an aerobics class versus running outside) during seasons that cause debilitating symptoms for you.

Additionally, you should make sure your air-conditioning and heating filters are changed on a regular basis. How frequently should these be changed? Well, it depends on the type of filter you have, but typically every 3-6 months is adequate for either cleaning or changing your filter. Specialized air-filters, such as HEPA filters, may help control, or at least temper, some allergic symptoms.

I am still having symptoms, what are my options?

If you have done everything you can to limit your exposure and are still experiencing problems, then you may need to start medication.  

One of the first things you can consider is nasal saline rinses.  Nasal saline rinses are both effective and under-used. They are cheap and easy to administer and you can buy them at nearly any drug store. This is just plain-old salt water that you can use to spray up your nose. But, the flushing process helps clear those irritants out of your nasal passages and may help to reduce your symptoms significantly.  

Nasal steroids are the first line in allergy care, especially if your symptoms are mostly runny nose or cough. There is relatively little systemic absorption with these medications. Instead, you take the medication by inhaling them and they act on the nasal passages to reduce local inflammation. This helps your nasal passages to drain better, leaving you feeling less "stuffy" or "plugged up" from your allergies.  However, you will need a doctor's prescription for nasal steroids.

People with seasonal allergies may also benefit from an oral antihistamine. Benadryl is the classic "first-generation" antihistamine but can leave you feeling drowsy. The newer "second-generation" antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra are less sedating options.  In general, the second generation antihistamines work best to control nasal symptoms and cough when combined with a nasal steroid spray and are now available over-the-counter.

However, you may want to be cognizant of whether you are choosing the “basic” preparation or the medicine that is labelled “-D” (e.g. “Allegra-D”). The “-D” stands for decongestant.

Decongestant added to allergy medications is often pseudoephedrine which can raise blood pressure and may not be the best medication if you have “hypertension” or high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, you can check the back of the package to see if pseudoephedrine is listed as an ingredient, and avoid these preparations if your blood pressure is a concern. In addition, if you have severe benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) which is enlargement of the prostate, you’ll want to discuss the risks and benefits of starting one of these medications as they can exacerbate your symptoms. Of course, as with any medication and if you are pregnant, you should discuss starting new medications with your doctor.

What if I have a lot of eye irritation?

Seasonal allergy symptoms can vary person to person. Some suffer from the “classic”, runny nose, post-nasal drip and cough. Others however, are most bothered by eye symptoms such as itchy, red, and watery eyes. First, you can try some simple steps such as taking a break from your contact lenses. Contact lenses can trap irritants underneath them, and this constant, trapped, allergen exposure can leave your eyes painful, itchy, and bloodshot. So, break out those cute specs during allergy season!

You may also benefit from the above mentioned therapies, or may actually find the most relief from eye antihistamine or ketotifen eye drops.

Of course, if you have pus draining from the eye, or any vision changes, you need to see a doctor immediately, as this is not typical of seasonal allergies and may be a sign of a more concerning problem or infection.

Are there additional options I should know about?

Afrin is an additional option for nasal congestion, when acute and not resolved by the above therapies. However, you do not want to use it for more than 3 days in a row or you may experience “rebound”  nasal congestion (aka a worsened runny nose after stopping the medication). This medication is best for acute, or short term, exacerbations of your allergies... this medication is certainly not for long-term use or as a "controller medication" for symptoms.  Similar to the “-D” antihistaminines, Afrin may also cause increases in blood pressure and therefore should be discussed with your physician if you already have high blood pressure.

I can’t figure out what’s causing my symptoms...what next?

Let’s say you’ve tried everything above but are still having symptoms and can’t figure out what’s causing them. If you tried but can’t identify a trigger, and your symptoms remain debilitating or extremely bothersome, it might be helpful to undergo allergy testing which is most commonly done by either patch or with allergy prick/scratch tests.

Allergy testing is performed by placing a patch with suspected triggers onto the skin or injecting small amount of purified allergen under the skin."

 Patch testing involves placing a pad of the suspected triggers onto your skin for 1-3 days. The doctor will then have you return to take a look at your skin and see if it has become red or inflamed at the site of application. Allergy “prick testing” entails injecting a small amount of purified allergen under your skin, to see if you have an allergic reaction to the substance. Most patients tolerate the injection process just fine (although this depends on your pain tolerance). However, both patch and prick testing can be a bit uncomfortable if you have an allergic reaction to the substance applied, as the area can become red, inflamed or itchy afterwards  Most primary care physicians do not do these tests, so, typically, you will have to see a specialist doctor known as an “Allergist” to have either of them done.

What if I am still suffering?

There are a few additional therapies you can discuss with your physician. For example, allergy shots are a consideration for people who have bothersome symptoms despite sufficient medical and environmental management. 

Above, we give you some of the more “conservative” or “less invasive” options that you can use to control your seasonal allergies. As always, you should discuss with your primary doctor or allergist what symptoms are most bothersome to you...e.g. do you suffer from eye symptoms, runny nose, cough or all of the above? By providing this information during your visit, your doctor can work with you to best tailor your care and to give you options for sufficient symptomatic relief.

Hopefully this information helps you get out there, enjoy the seasons and blooms...and let’s get control of those seasonal allergies!

Meghan Connelly, MD
Meghan Connelly, MD

Meghan Connelly grew up in Ohio.  She attended Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and minoring in both Chemistry and American Political Science. Afterwards, she attended medical school at the University of Southern California. She currently lives in Washington DC and is completing dua.. Read more

  • No comments found
Add comment