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Combat Your Spring Allergies

Tips to help you reduce your seasonal allergy misery

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Allergy

Spring is in the air…and unfortunately so is pollen. If you have itchy, watery eyes and find yourself sneezing, you may be one of the millions of people suffering from seasonal allergies. Pennsylvania is home to some of the most common allergens, including ragweed, pollen and certain trees like elm and maple.

The good news is that you do not have to suffer with allergy symptoms. “There are a lot of great over-the-counter medications to relieve your allergy symptoms. There is no reason to let allergy symptoms interfere with your everyday activities,” says ear, nose and throat specialist Keith Pritchyk, MD, with LVPG Ear, Nose and Throat–Steamtown.

Is it allergies or something more?

Pritchyk admits that it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between allergies and a cold or even COVID-19. He stresses the importance of testing for COVID-19 if you are unsure but says there are a few signs that can help you determine if you are suffering from allergies.

“Allergies can cause symptoms similar to COVID-19 and colds like fatigue, headache, sore throat and congestion. The biggest difference is that allergies can cause itchy, watery eyes. Allergies also do not cause fevers or shortness of breath,” says Pritchyk.

Another sign of seasonal allergies is having recurring symptoms the same time each year. If you have an onset of symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, fatigue and itchy watery eyes, and you notice they seem to be a repeat from last year, you have seasonal allergies.

According to Pritchyk, you can develop allergies at any stage of life, even if you have not had them before. “While you can develop allergies at any age, if you are over 70 it is unlikely you will develop allergies. You may even outgrow allergies as you get older,” he says.

Controlling your allergy symptoms

While your first instinct may be to run for the allergy aisle at the nearest pharmacy, Pritchyk says there are other options. “Avoidance of allergies is the first line of treatment. Close your windows, wash your face and clothing when you come indoors, wear a face mask when cutting grass and try an air purifier with a HEPA filter at home,” he says.

If that fails, he says it is time to try medication. Pritchyk recommends nasal steroids as the first line of therapy. Examples are Flonase (fluticasone propionate) and Naxonex (mometasone), which treat all the symptoms of allergies, especially congestion. If symptoms persist, he suggests adding an over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Xyzal (levocetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine) or Claritin (loratadine).

Pritchyk says the amount of time you need to be on allergy medication is dependent on the type of allergies you have. “If your allergies are specific to a certain season, you should take the allergy medication until the season is over, typically about 12 weeks (about three months). However, if you have perennial allergies (chronic allergies due to pets or dust, for example) you should take the meds all year, or as long as you are exposed to the allergen,” says Pritchyk.

If your allergy symptoms persist despite all other efforts, it's time to make an appointment with an allergist. “An allergist will go over your medical history, medications and may recommend an allergy test to see what specific allergens are causing your symptoms. If medications are not controlling your symptoms or you cannot tolerate the medications, you may be a candidate for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) is the only way to potentially cure allergy symptoms,” he says.

Allergy shots are regular injections given over a period of time to stop or at least reduce allergy symptoms. Each shot contains a small amount of the substance that triggers allergy symptoms so that you build up a resistance to the substance.

If you don’t want allergy shots, Pritchyk says another form of immunotherapy is sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), which are drops that go under your tongue every day.  He says the drops have a similar effect as shots but can be done at home.

allergies and allergy treatments

Allergy

Seasonal allergies are caused by an immune system reaction

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