Monday, April 1, 2013

Itchy Eyes, Runny Nose...Achoo!



No April Fool's...here in Austin, Texas, we are fully into OAK ALLERGY season. Our cars have a dusting of yellow pollen, and the streets are strewn with oak droppings. Is it time for a trip to your family doctor or allergist? Maybe, but there are several remedies you can try on your own first.

What are signs and symptoms of allergies?

At the risk of sounding like an antihistamine commercial, it's sneezing (often in fits of sneezes), itchy eyes, itchy throat, scratchy throat, drainage down the back of your throat (which creates early morning sore throats that often fade mid-morning), stuffy eyes, ear pressure and the lovely dark circles under your eyes.

What is recommended for treatment?

Typically we start with the non-sedating antihistamines,which used to be prescription but are now available over the counter (OTC). These include Loratadine (Claritin), Fexofenadine (Allegra), and Cetirizine(Zyrtec), to name a few of the most popular. Which is BEST? In my experience, they are equally effective overall. However, what works for you this year may not work as well next year, and there is not great science to explain why. Antihistamines will DRY you up and STOP ITCH. If you are mainly stuffy, you are better off with just a decongestant such as phenylephrine (Sudafed) or if you have both, grab a combination product.

If you are suffering regularly in a particular season, or perhaps year-round from something like molds, your doctor may recommend more preventative therapy such as nasal steroid sprays. These sprays are prescription, and they are not "addictive" like the OTC ones. The OTC sprays that give immediate relief are fine for a day or two, but beyond that, you will get rebound nasal congestion and be chasing your tail with symptoms/spray/more symptoms/more spray. Nasal steroids are minimally absorbed (so no turning into Arnold, gaining weight, or weakening your bones.) They are very safe, and decrease swelling while creating kind of protective barrier against entering irritants, so you don't turn on the histamine system that causes allergy symptoms.

What more prevention can you do?

Well, it's April 1st, so like every first of the month, I recommend changing out your home's air filters! Even the "central" or "media filter" type should be changed at least three or four times per year, despite manufacturer recommendations of annual replacement. Yes, that is expensive, but cheaper than many allergy medications, and no other side effects! Consider posting a reminder on your calendar to change your filters every few months. HEPA air cleans and vacuum bags are of unclear efficacy, but may help. Limit your outside exposure (get on the exercise bike or treadmill indoors.) If you really suffer, consider getting rid of carpet and drapes in your home, and restricting pets to outside the bedroom.

BOTTOM LINE: If you can't stop sneezing or are having other signs of seasonal allergies, schedule an appointment with your doctor and find out what she can do to help! There are many interventions before considering allergy shots- though for severe sufferers, those shots may be an excellent option.

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