Now that we’re done with February, spring is right around the corner. And with spring, comes allergy season. In fact, with the temperature having been in the 70s recently, pollen has begun to permeate the air already. Many people are beginning to once again suffer from seasonal pollen allergies, so I thought a review of allergies would be timely.
Most people are aware of pollen from the outside, as well as animal dander and household allergens. Texas tends to be a haven for many of these allergy triggers. So just what is an allergy?
Our body’s immune system has developed to be aware of proteins that are foreign to us. You may have read about people getting kidney transplants needing immunosuppressant drugs, so that they don’t reject the donor’s kidney.
Our body recognizes our own proteins, and most often, there is no problem. However, there are autoimmune diseases in which the body has been triggered to have an immune response to our own proteins, and an immune response is enacted, which can be harmful.
Examples of these conditions are multiple sclerosis, in which the immune system attacks portions of the brain cells; systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) in which the immune system attacks various membranes throughout the body, Other examples are rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Type I diabetes, and a form of low thyroid called Graves, psoriasis and so on.
Some people are allergic to certain medications, such as sulfa antibiotics, some penicillins and aspirin. This is not the same as having side effects. An allergy stimulates the body’s immune system.
Then there are allergies to pollens, dander, mold, dust mites and other similar organisms. These living cells have protein coats that are foreign to our own selves. For some people, who have sensitive immune systems, our bodies think that we are being attacked by an invading organism and turn on our immune system. The intent of the immune system is to wall off the invading organisms and flush them out of our bodies.
It does this by releasing a chemical called histamine, which is released from the mast cells in our bloodstream causing swelling in the affected areas, tearing, watery nose, congestion and other symptoms.
This wouldn’t be so much of a problem were it not for the fact that this situation can last almost all year round, and for some people, is seriously disabling. It can also lead to infections.
So what can we do? Obviously, discussing this with your internist or family physician is reasonable. General suggestions for many people, follow…
As for medications, decongestants such as Afrin, can be sprayed in the nostrils (only for a few days), helps open up the nasal passages, so we can breathe.
Sudafed, the brand name of pseudoephedrine and available in a 12-hour tablet, is also effective in clearing up passages.
Nasonex and Flonase, over the counter local steroid sprays, can be used regularly to help minimize swelling in the nasal passages.
Antihistamines block the histamine swelling. Examples are Benadryl, Allegra, Zyrtec and Claritin, which help prevent the histamine effects.
These medications can be used in combination to help combat the severe effects of the allergies.
A cool mist humidifier in the bedroom; frequent vacuuming; an air purifier, nasal lavages, showering after spending time outdoors and other home remedies can prove very helpful.
Finally, consultation with an allergist, to investigate the option of allergy desensitization may be worthwhile. The allergist investigates the person’s specific tendencies to allergens, and prescribes a tailored regimen of allergy injections, which slowly and gradually desensitization the person’s immune system to the most troublesome allergens.