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House Call: Ways to alleviate airborne allergies

If you suffer from hay fever, this spring and summer has probably been rough on you. Even if you don’t normally suffer from allergies in the springtime or summer, you may have experienced some allergic symptoms this year with the extremely high pollen counts we have been having.

Typical allergy symptoms include the following:

Itchy eyes, ears, and throat

Sneezing

Runny nose and nasal congestion

Coughing

Sinus headaches

Feeling generally lousy

Asthma symptoms (if you have asthma)

There are a number of things you can do to treat your allergic reaction and get relief. Oral antihistamines are the first line treatment and work well for most people. You should take them regularly during your allergy season as they block histamine receptors and prevent allergic reactions. If you wait until you are miserable to take them it they don’t work as well as the allergic reaction as started and you must wait until it wears itself out. The newer ones available over the counter (OTC), such as loratadine and cetirizine, have fewer side effects than older ones. They provide good relief, for most people are completely non-sedating, and are cheap and very safe. The FDA approved dose is 10mg tablet a day.

If you have a lot of congestion with your allergies, pseudoephedrine is available OTC as well. Consult with your doctor before taking decongestants if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, or heart disease. They are stimulants and can raise your blood pressure. If taken in the evening they will screw up your sleep. Be aware that allergy medications that end with –D have one of these decongestants in them. If you stay on top of your allergies with antihistamines you shouldn’t need the D. I usually don’t recommend them.

The next step is to use corticosteroid nose sprays that are available OTC now. These medications must be used daily and can take 2-4 weeks of daily use to start working. They generally help the itchy eyes as well.

Some people also find relief from allergies by rinsing out their sinuses with a salt and baking soda solution. The easiest way to do this is with a neti pot or sinus rinse bottle. You can make your own mixture or purchase premade packets at the drug store. I make my own with a half teaspoon each of salt and baking soda in a cup of water.

Some other things you can do to get relief from airborne allergies involve your home and bedroom. If you have central air and heat, make sure you have new filters installed. Vacuum your floors, carpets, and furniture frequently and dust using something that will capture the dust and not just knock it off and onto the floor. If you have furniture with removable covers, including pet beds, wash them once a week. With the pollen count so high, you might benefit from a HEPa filter in your bedroom at night. It is now possible to buy air cleaners with HEPa filters that are washable, which saves considerable money in the long run.

If those things are not effective you can get allergy testing and shots to desensitize you, but it takes 3-5 years of weekly to monthly shots to get benefit and for most people I don’t think that it is worth the time, expense, and hassle.

No matter what works best for easing your allergies, keep a box of tissues handy just in case.

Dr. Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.


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