Q: What's the worst season for allergy suffers?
A: Seasonal allergies are typically caused by plant pollens, and different plants release pollen at different times of the year. This means that the worst season for an individual allergy sufferer depends on what plant pollens he or she is allergic to.
In our area, juniper, cedar and cypress tree pollens are at their height from late January to early March, followed by oak pollens in March, and walnut, olive and grass pollens in late spring. If your symptoms are worse during the later summer or fall, it could signal an allergy to weed pollens.
To determine what may be causing your seasonal allergies, ask your doctor or see an allergy specialist.
Q: What can I do to control my seasonal allergy symptoms without taking medication?
A: There are many steps you can take to ease your seasonal allergy symptoms:
• Change your clothes and wash your hands after hiking to avoid bringing pollens into your home.
• Cover your bed pillows with allergy-proof liners that go between your pillow and the regular pillow cover. During allergy season, common year-round allergens like the dust mites found in all bedding can make symptoms worse. A pillow liner will help reduce added irritation from dust mites.
• Get rid of fabric couch pillows that can harbor allergens and dust mites. If you want pillows on your couch, choose leather or vinyl pillows.
• Keep windows closed from sunrise to mid-morning as pollen levels peak in the morning.
• Keep car windows up and use the "recirculate" air setting to keep pollen out of the car.
Q: What medications can help me control my allergies?
A: The most natural and effective medication you can use to ease allergy symptoms is an over-the-counter saline nose rinse such as Ocean Mist or Simply Saline. These rinses flush allergens and other irritants out of the nose before they can cause allergy symptoms.
Conventional allergy medications such as Claritin and Zyrtec are safe, available without a prescription and can ease allergy symptoms within an hour of taking them. In addition, prescription cortisone nose sprays, such as Nasonex or Flonase, can prevent the allergic reaction that causes allergy symptoms in the first place. However, it may take anywhere between a week and three months before you notice the sprays working.
Be careful using complementary or alternative allergy treatments as some of these products can interfere with conventional medicines prescribed by your doctor. Unlike conventional medicines, alternative and complementary medicines have not been tested by the Food and Drug Administration, and their effectiveness is based only on anecdotal evidence. Some herbal remedies can also cause allergic reactions.
Q: Can allergy shots eliminate year-round allergy symptoms?
A: Allergy shots, in which a patient builds up an immunity by receiving a shot containing a tiny dose of the substance he or she is allergic to, can be effective at minimizing allergy symptoms. However, they are a major investment of time and money. Fortunately, most allergy sufferers don't need them and can get effective relief from a combination of saline nose rinses, allergy medications, cortisone nose sprays and home changes such as using allergy-proof pillow liners.
Patients who continue to suffer from chronic year-round allergies or have very bad seasonal allergies year after year, despite having tried all regular allergy treatments, should consider allergy shots. The shots need to be administered at the allergist's office, as there is a very small risk the shots could cause an allergic reaction severe enough to require immediate medical treatment.