Published on Mar 28, 2011 with 1 comment
Seasonal allergies are back! With the arrival of spring, many children and adults have already had the onset of allergy symptoms due to exposure to seasonal pollens. You can spot them from across the room- tissue in hand, sneezing, sniffling, blowing their nose, tearing, and rubbing their eyes and nose. If fortunate, these allergy symptoms are but a minor inconvenience, but, if severe, they can significantly affect one’s quality of life.
Seasonal allergies, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, as its name implies, manifests itself during the pollen seasons, most typically in the spring and fall. Exposure to tree pollens is generally responsible for late winter and springtime symptoms, while grass pollens are generally the cause of late springtime and early summer symptoms. Flare ups in the fall are typically due to weed pollens and high mold spore exposure. Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis can be quite intense and can last for weeks to months, if not treated.
Allergic rhinitis is actually one of the easiest allergy diagnoses for an allergist to make. If the medical history suggests allergic rhinitis, an allergist will likely perform allergy testing in order to confirm the diagnosis, identify the offending allergen(s), and ascertain the severity of the allergy. The preferable and simplest testing method of testing is skin testing. This method allows the testing of multiple allergens at one time with the results being available immediately. Contrary to popular belief, the most recent skin testing techniques are painless and well tolerated, even in young children. (See allergy diagnosis for more information on skin testing)
Once the relevant allergens have been identified, an allergist will recommend a comprehensive treatment plan to eliminate the existing symptoms and hopefully reduce or prevent symptoms in the future. Treatment options fall into three categories: environmental control, pharmacotherapy, and immunotherapy. One, two, or all three of these options may be recommended, depending on multiple factors such as the severity and chronicity of allergy symptoms, results of past treatment, and the effect that the symptoms have on one’s quality of life.
Theoretically, environmental control is quite simple: one needs to minimize exposure to all relevant allergens. As simple as this is conceptually, it may be quite difficult, if not impossible, to implement in many cases. This is especially true when one is exposed to pollen, as these pollens are light and microscopic, traveling for tens to hundreds of miles in a gentle breeze. Once the pollinating season starts, it is virtually impossible to avoid exposure to airborne pollen while outdoors. If possible, one should stay indoors with air conditioning on high pollen days and the windows should remain closed. It may also be helpful to wear an allergy mask when outdoors for long periods of time.
In the arena of pharmacotherapy, there are many medicines available which are quite safe and effective in minimizing or eliminating the symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis. These generally fall into the categories of antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, and other non-steroidal blockers of inflammation.
As important as environmental control and pharmacotherapy are, the third treatment option, immunotherapy or desensitization, is the only treatment option that addresses the actual cause of the immune system’s abnormal over-response. Historically, the gold standard of treatment has been allergy injections. However, an exciting advance in the area of immunotherapy is the ability to desensitize pollen allergic individuals by using oral or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), as opposed to allergy injections. This procedure has been used for decades in Europe and has gained acceptance among a growing number of American board certified allergists over the last few years.
The good news for those who suffer from seasonal allergies is that help is available, and in most cases, allergy symptoms due to pollen and other inhaled allergens can be significantly diminished or eliminated, greatly improving one’s quality of life.