Allergies, such as hay fever, can make you feel awful. Allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose can affect your life at work, home, or in any situation.
So how can you get a handle on allergies and use strategies that can ease your misery? First, find out what’s causing your symptoms. A visit to your family doctor or an allergist may be the place to start.
A doctor will likely gather a health history, discuss your signs and symptoms, and the way you treat your allergies. Then, you may have a physical exam to discover more about your symptoms. Ultimately, you may be asked to take a skin prick or an allergy blood test.
During a skin prick test, small amounts of material that may trigger allergies are pricked into the skin of your arm or upper back. You’ll then be monitored for an allergic reaction, which is usually a raised bump on your skin.
An allergy blood test (the radioallergosorbent test or RAST) – measures the immune system's response to specific allergens. A blood sample is sent to a laboratory, where the RAST test can be performed.
If tests determine your allergies are not too severe, over-the-counter medications may be enough to help. However, if you have several allergies occurring simultaneously, or if the symptoms are more severe, prescription medications may be recommended.
Some medications that may be recommended to treat hay fever and allergies include:
· Prescription nasal sprays called nasal corticosteroids that can help prevent and treat nasal inflammation, itching and runny nose. These are a safe, long-term treatment for most people.
· Antihistamines can help with itching, sneezing and runny nose. Newer oral antihistamines, usually in pill form, are less likely to make people drowsy.
· Decongestants can ease your stuffiness. These medications are available over-the-counter or by prescription. There may be some side effects with oral decongestants, though, and you should not use over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays for more than two or three days at a time; that can worsen symptoms.
· A prescription tablet called a leukotriene modifier (known by the brand name, Singulair) may be taken to block your immune system from causing symptoms. This medicine has proven effective in treating allergy-induced asthma and may be used when nasal sprays can't be tolerated, or when mild asthma is present.
Allergy shots may also be recommended as a complement or replacement to medications. You may receive regular injections containing tiny amounts of allergens over the course of three to five years. These shots help get your body used to allergens that cause symptoms. Shots may be very effective against cat dander, dust mites, or pollen. These injections may also help prevent the development of asthma in children.
Whether you’re being treated for allergies or are simply trying to cope with them, you can do some things to reduce your exposure to allergens:
· Close doors and windows during pollen season.
· Use air conditioning in your house and car.
· Use an allergy-grade filter in the ventilation system.
· Avoid outdoor activity in early morning when pollen counts are highest.
· Stay indoors on dry, windy days.
· Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves.
· Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, box springs and pillows.
· Wash sheets and blankets in hot water at least 130 degrees F.
· Vacuum carpets weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle (HEPA) filter.
· Consider removing carpeting especially where you sleep.
· Bathe pets weekly.
· Keep pets out of the bedroom.
More information about allergies and treatment is available on the Mayo Clinic Website, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/basics/definition/con-20020827 or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Website, http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/rhinitis.aspx.
Stacey Krout Minor, PhD(c), MSN, RN