It’s that time of year again: Pine pollen, grass pollen, molds and many other potent allergens are signaling the start of spring in Metropolitan Atlanta. Whether you live or work inside or outside of the perimeter, you have likely noticed the decline in cold days and flu symptoms as we welcome warmer weather and clearer skies. We are all eager to get outdoors, work in the garden, and play on the ball fields.
Combining these allergens with increasing time outdoors is triggering a consistent chorus of “achoos”, drippy noses, scratchy throats and red, itchy eyes. Seasonal allergies, as anyone who suffers from them will tell you, cause significant discomfort and disruption. Some suffer so badly, they miss work or avoid activities they otherwise enjoy. Despite the prevalence of allergies and the well-established medical interventions shown to treat or prevent them, patients are often misinformed or misunderstand. While many just suffer through the season, there are several effective treatment options that can be explored.
What causes me to feel so miserable?
The primary chemical involved in the allergic response is Histamine. Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate and to become leaky. These leaky vessels cause many of the classic symptoms of allergies: congestion, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Histamine also stimulates the nervous system which is the primary cause of itching, sneezing and even pain.
What can I do about it?
The “first-line”, and most commonly used allergy medications are “intra-nasal steroids” and the “second generation anti-histamines”. Intra-nasal steroids, like Nasonex® and Flonase®, are by far the most effective way to treat and prevent allergic symptoms due to environmental allergens like pollens and mold. They should be used every day, and preferably started at the beginning of the allergy season, even before you have symptoms. The intra-nasal corticosteroids are both now over the counter and prescription. The newer, long-acting anti-histamines are less sedating than the older anti-histamines like Benadryl®. Brand names like Zyrtec ®, Claritin® and Allegra® are examples. Each is also available in generic form . They are all available over the counter and are useful adjuncts to intra-nasal corticosteroid sprays. They are rarely effective on their own for treating all symptoms, and they do not prevent the allergic response like steroid nasal sprays do. Some allergy sufferers, not responding to a combination of steroid sprays and anti-histamines can try adding anti-histamine nasal sprays and/or immuno-modulators like Singulair®, though studies show that their impact is marginal.
What can I do if my allergies don’t respond to the usual treatments?
If allergies are severe enough and not relieved by the conventional means described above, then consideration of steroid shots or a de-sensitization program is warranted. While de-sensitization is usually done by an allergist, a steroid shot is something that can be given in the urgent care. A long acting steroid like Kenalog® is typically used and can be effective for preventing allergic symptoms for up to 3 months. Steroid shots should be considered when conventional therapy fails. They should not be used more than once a year. Risk and benefit of all medications, including potential side effects should be discussed with your doctor.
So, if you’re tired of all the sneezing, dripping, itching and congestion, then come in to Piedmont Urgent Care for an allergy assessment and treatment options. We are your source for prompt and attentive allergy care in the Atlanta metro area. We have board certified physicians available in very convenient locations, find the one nearest you.