Question of the Week

April 4, 2005



"Allergies are caused by your body's immune system. Your immune system protects you from diseases by fighting germslike bacteria and viruses, but when you have allergies, it overreacts and tries to 'fight' ordinary things like grass pollen or certain foods when you come into contact with them. This causes the sneezing, itching, and other reactions that you get with allergies."

To some, the start of Spring means the start of allergy season. For others, allergies are something they live with all year.

"Allergens include pollen, mold, dust mites, certain foods, latex, animal dander and others. ... If the allergen is in the air, the allergic reaction will occur in the eyes, nose and lungs. If the allergen is ingested, the allergic reaction will occur in the mouth, stomach and intestines. Sometimes enough inflammatory chemicals are released to cause a reaction throughout the body, such as hives, decreased blood pressure, shock or loss of consciousness. This severe type of reaction is called anaphylaxis and may be life-threatening."

Even if you do not personally experience allergy symptoms, you may know someone who does. "More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergic diseases. * Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, costing the health care system $18 billion annually. * Two estimates of prevalence of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (hay fever) in the United States are 9 percent and 16 percent. The prevalence of allergic rhinitis has increased substantially over the past 15 years. * In 2002, approximately 14 million office visits to health care providers were attributed to allergic rhinitis."

"What is Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis causes the familiar symptoms of nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, and itchy, watery eyes. These symptoms come about because of inflammation within the nose in response to allergy triggers, such as pets and pollens."

If you have a food allergy that you know about, then you can avoid the food, but what about airborne allergies? Can you avoid the air?

"How can I avoid allergens?
"Pollens. Shower or bathe before bedtime to wash off pollen and other allergens in your hair and on your skin. Avoid
going outside, especially on dry, windy days. ...
"Mold. You can reduce the amount of mold in your home by removing houseplants and by frequently cleaning shower curtains, bathroom windows, damp walls, areas with dry rot and indoor trash cans.
"Pet dander. If your allergies are severe, you may need to give your pets away or at least keep them outside.
"Dust and dust mites. To reduce dust mites in your home, remove drapes, feather pillows, upholstered furniture, nonwashable comforters and soft toys. Replace carpets with linoleum or wood. ... Cover mattress and pillows with plastic covers. Lower the humidity in your home."

Trying to keep a house, a room, or a life as allergen-free as possible can be overwhelming, but noticeable improvements can be made. That said, there are lifestyle changes that some people are not willing to make:

"Avoid going outside"? "Give your pets away"?

"What medicines can I take to help relieve my symptoms?
"Antihistamines help reduce the sneezing, runny nose and itchiness of allergies. ... Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and dry mouth. Others are less likely to cause these side effects, but some of these require a prescription. Ask your doctor which kind is best for you.
"Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that helps temporarily relieve the stuffy nose of allergies. It is found in many medicines and comes as pills, nose sprays and nose drops. It is best used only for a short time. Nose sprays and drops shouldn't be used for more than 3 days because you can become dependent on them. This causes you to feel even more stopped-up when you try to quit using them. You can buy pseudoephedrine without a doctor's prescription. However, decongestants can raise your blood pressure, so it's a good idea to talk to your family doctor before using them, especially if you have high blood pressure.
"Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray that helps prevent the body's reaction to allergens. ... This medicine may take 2 to 4 weeks to start working. It is available without a
"Nasal steroid sprays reduce the reaction of the nasal tissues to inhaled allergens. This helps relieve the swelling in your nose so that you feel less stopped-up. They come in nasal sprays that your doctor may prescribe. You won't notice their benefits for up to 2 weeks after starting them.
"Your doctor may prescribe steroid pills for a short time or give you a steroid shot if your symptoms are severe or if other medicines aren't working for you.
"Eye drops. If your other medicines are not helping enough with your itchy, watery eyes, your doctor may prescribe eye drops for you."

Medications are plentiful, but do come with warnings. They may not be right for everyone, and even OTC (Over the Counter) medications have their risks. Discussing these risks with a doctor who knows the patient's medical and family history is best, but can be cost prohibitive for some -- as can the medications themselves.

Questions of the Week:
Who do you know who is living with allergies? Is it you? What can be done to avoid the allergens that cause problems for you or someone you know? What about the allergens that cannot be avoided? What can be done to reduce the symptoms that the allergens cause? What can those with allergies do to help minimize their symptoms -- while maintaining a lifestyle that they enjoy? When do allergies warrant a trip to the doctor? What should allergy sufferers know about the different medications available before talking to a doctor? What should the patients know about their symptoms and medical history? What questions should they be ready to answer about their life and lifestyle (i.e. information about their home, sports, activities, hobbies...)? If allergies do not affect you personally, then how do they affect those you know? How can you be sensitive to a friend or family member's needs? What can you do to help minimize their symptoms while helping them to continue with activities they enjoy?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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