Fall is in the air (or so we say). That’s a nice way of expressing that the weather is getting a little cooler, there is the familiar scent of wood smoke from a distant chimney and the crunch of dry leaves under foot on our favorite walking path. But in reality…there is a lot more than a nostalgic treat to the senses floating in the breeze. For seasonal allergy sufferers there is the threat of ragweed and grass pollen, mold spores, as well as the year round allergens of dust mites, pet dander, and these are just a few of the usual suspects. Chemical irritants such as smoke, exhaust and factory emissions can add to the reaction of the body’s immune system as it mounts a response like an army to thwart a seasonal attack on the eyes, throat and nasal passages.
To make things even more confusing, differences in weather patterns, including the amount of rainfall and sunshine from year to year, can mean the production of more or less pollen and mold spores. And there may be more dust and other airborne irritants in the breeze when the weather has been dry. High humidity can also be a factor in the growth of dust mites and mold. It seems there are all kinds of ways allergens can make autumn a time to be miserable unless we take some important steps to prepare for and address seasonal allergies head on.
Well-Being spoke with Dr. Christopher E. Lee, a physician in the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, about steps allergy sufferers can take to relieve the seasonal discomfort and disruption of daily life caused by fall allergies.
Dr. Lee began by listing some ways to prevent the pollen and other outdoor allergens from making there way into the home.
“If you are a seasonal allergy sufferer, take a shower and wash your hair when you have been outdoors and change into clean clothes,” Dr. Lee suggests. “This will help prevent the transfer of pollen and other outdoor allergens to your bedding and other furniture. Use a nasal saline rinse to clear out any allergens stuck in your nasal passage. Think of your nose as an air filter that needs to be cleaned. Limit your pets from coming in and out of the house a lot, and make sure there is a good seal on the doors and windows. Consider using an allergen air filter or HEPA filter to filter out more particulates from the conditioned air in your home. You might also consider getting an app for your phone that can warn you of high pollen counts so you can better plan your day.”
“Another proactive step you might take if you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, is to start taking an antihistamine in advance of going out,” Dr. Lee continues. “If you have been diagnosed with allergies, you might begin your prescription medicines, such as nasal steroids, before the onset of allergy season to lessen the severity of your reaction.”
Most of us are aware of over-the-counter and prescription medicines such as antihistamines, and a variety of nasal sprays that are currently available to help mitigate allergy symptoms. We may also know of someone who is either on or has been on allergen immunotherapy shots or “allergy shots” that can help lessen the body’s reaction to allergens after being administered in a doctor’s office over a period of three to five years. But, now there are some new advances in allergy treatment you may not be aware of that are showing promising results.
“Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is one of the latest tools we have to help allergy sufferers,” notes Dr. Lee. “Instead of shots that have to be given over a long period of time in the doctor’s office or clinic, SLIT is given by mouth and can be taken by the patient at home. The FDA has now approved a dissolvable tablet form of the medication that is placed under the tongue once a day. SLIT seems to offer a lower risk for serious reactions to the allergens, such as anaphylaxis. Sublingual drops also have been developed and have been in use in the United States for several years with excellent results, but as yet have not received FDA approval so they are not covered by insurance.”
“So far the results have been very good, with most patients seeing a dramatic improvement in treatment for inhalant allergies to pollen from weeds, trees, and grasses as well as from dust mites and other allergens,” Dr. Lee adds. “Immunotherapy can potentially cure allergies and dramatically decrease the need for allergy medicines. About 80-90% of patients with Allergic Rhinitis receive benefit from immunotherapy whether through allergy shots or SLIT. SLIT is much more user-friendly, especially for young patients. When begun as early as age three, it can not only help to prevent uncomfortable allergy symptoms, but like allergy shots can possibly prevent the development of allergic asthma at a later age.”
Anyone who has routinely suffered from allergies in the spring and fall or year-round, but who has not been tested for allergies, should make an appointment to see their general practitioner, an Ear, Nose, and Throat Allergy specialist (Otolaryngologist) or a Medical Allergy specialist.
“Seasonal allergies can upset a person’s routine and keep them from enjoying the activities of daily life,” explains Dr. Lee. “If someone’s symptoms are not being controlled with over-the-counter medicines it can interrupt their sleep, their ability to function at full potential and can result in missed work or school days. Get tested so you know what you are allergic to and can work with your doctor to find the right treatment plan which may include a combination of avoidance, medications, and possibly immunotherapy. As with any health condition, the more you know, the better you can address it and take positive steps to lessen its impact on your life. Get help so this fall you can breathe easier when allergy season hits.”
Christopher E. Lee, M.D., FAAOA, Otolaryngologist, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. He completed his internship and residency in Otolaryngology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, College of Medicine. Dr. Lee is Board Certified in Otolaryngology. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy.