To Your Health: Breeze through spring allergy season this year
By Dr. Sherry Fishkin March 27, 2013 10:28AM
Dr. Sherry Fishkin
Updated: April 28, 2013 6:24AM
With the warmer temperatures we experienced in January and February, millions of Americans have been keeping their tissue boxes close by as the spring allergy season got a bit of an early start this year.
But there are much more effective ways to stave off the itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other related symptoms than with Kleenex.
One of the most effective is to start taking medication prescribed by your doctor before your symptoms begin. Another is to avoid potential triggers.
If you haven’t yet started your medication, it’s not too late, but you may have to wait a week or two to feel their symptom-relieving effects.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis or “hay fever” affects up to 40 million Americans. Of those, up to 80 percent have difficulty sleeping, which can lead to daytime fatigue and reduced productivity at work or school.
To reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your allergy symptoms:
Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
Delegate grass cutting, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens. If you have no choice, wear a dust mask.
Remove clothes you’ve worn outside. You may also want to shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
Never hang laundry outside. Pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
Keep windows closed at home and in the car to limit exposure to allergens.
Keep nasal saline (salt water) spray around to rinse out your nasal passages two to three times a day. Avoid nasal saline rinses within an hour of taking a medicated nasal spray. Nasal saline is not a medication, but it may enhance your management of allergy symptoms when taking other allergy medications.
As for medications, there are several types that can ease allergy symptoms.
Oral antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, runny nose and watery eyes. Examples include loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy) and fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy).
Other antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), are also effective, but can make you drowsy.
Oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness. Decongestants also come in nasal sprays, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine). Only use nasal decongestants for short-term relief. Long-term use can actually make symptoms worse.
Cromolyn sodium nasal spray can ease allergy symptoms and doesn’t have serious side effects, though it’s most effective when you begin using it before your symptoms start.
A number of allergy medications combine an antihistamine with a decongestant. Examples include Drixoral and Claritin-D.
If you still feel miserable despite these recommendations, and your allergies lead to chronic sinus infections and frequent rounds of antibiotics, you may be a candidate for a minimally invasive technique called balloon sinuplasty.
During the procedure, a small, flexible balloon catheter is placed through a nostril into the blocked sinus passageway. The balloon is inflated to gently restructure and open the sinus passageway, restoring normal sinus drainage and function.
Many patients have the procedure performed on a Friday and return to work or normal activities the following Monday with minimal discomfort and dramatic symptom relief.
Studies have shown 90 percent of patients treated with balloon sinuplasty said they would recommend it to friends and family.
Offered at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, sinuplasty is performed as an outpatient procedure under anesthesia. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be a candidate.
Information about allergy relief or balloon sinuplasty, is at Ingalls Care Connection at (800) 221-2199.
Dr. Fishkin is an ear, nose and throat specialist and head and neck surgeon at Ingalls Memorial Hospital.