By Randy Almanzar, MD, primary care physician, AtlantiCare Primary Care Plus
Once your body starts reacting to allergens, it can compromise the efficacy of the medications you take, and can even render them useless altogether. Waiting until your nose starts to run can lead to worse symptoms that require heavier forms of medication.
Allergies are really just a hypersensitivity to particular stimuli. Pollen is a good example – and a common allergy that peaks at this time of year. When your body mistakenly identifies pollen or another substance as a virus of some kind, it releases a chemical called histamine. Histamine stimulates your immune cells, which causes an inflammatory response and leads to allergy symptoms.
I talk with my patients about taking allergy medication before fall allergens start to cause their symptoms. This helps you get out in front of the allergy cycle: by taking medication preventatively, you reduce the impact that allergens have, and may be able to prevent symptoms altogether.
Ragweed, a plant common across much of North America and throughout New Jersey, causes fall allergies for many people. The plant begins releasing pollen in August, and can affect people’s allergies through the fall.
Symptoms can range in severity, and not everyone will experience every symptoms. Some of these include:
- Those present on the skin: hives, contact dermatitis, eczema, or other rashes, itchy eyes
- Those that impact your respiratory system: stuffy or runny nose, difficulty breathing
- Those that impact your gastro-intestinal system: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
There are a range of medications to help combat allergies. Antihistamines, which block the chemical produced by your body in reaction to allergen exposure, can be particularly effective, but are most effective if you take the medication in advance of allergen exposure. Steroid nasal sprays can help decrease the influx of inflammatory cells, thereby reducing inflammation of the nasal mucosa. Patients usually begin to notice relief after about thirty minutes, although peak effect may take several hours to days. Many patients reach maximum effectiveness after two to four weeks of daily use.
There are also measures you can take to optimize your home for allergy prevention.
- Clean out the air ducts before you start using your heating system to prevent allergens from blowing all over your home.
- Wear a mask if you are doing work outdoors that is likely to kick up mold, such as raking leaves or mowing the lawn.
- Don’t hang laundry outside to dry, where pollen can accumulate on your clothes or sheets.
- Remove clothes you’ve worn outdoors as soon as you come inside to reduce expose to any pollen. Shower or rinse off to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
- Plan outdoor activities for the afternoon or evening, as pollen counts tend to be highest in the morning.
- Pay attention to the pollen count, and avoid being outdoors when pollen counts are high.
Most people can effectively manage their allergies with the help of their primary care provider. Talk with your PCP about what treatment is right for you, and about seeing an allergist if you need specialized medical treatment.