Q&A Topic: Treating Allergies and Asthma Across Seasons

Dr. George Martin
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Q: What is asthma and how is it related to allergies?

Asthma is an obstructive lung disease. Following exposure to an asthmatic trigger, a person develops increased mucus production, spasm of the airways, and inflammation, which leads to obstruction of air flow from the lungs. In individuals who have allergies, this is magnified severely and can be life threating. Both allergies and asthma can be effectively treated. If left untreated, allergies and asthma can have very serious consequences, including damage to the lungs, leading to the development of irreversible lung disease.

Q: What are the symptoms of allergies?

You may have allergies if you experience any of the following symptoms: headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, non-restful sleep, itchiness, redness or tearing of the eye, itching on the roof of the mouth or back of the throat, thick mucus, facial pressure and pain, post nasal drip, ear congestion, decreased hearing due to fluid in ears, snoring, and increased frequency of illness. Many patients also suffer with hives and/or flares of their eczema during allergy seasons. These symptoms can be debilitating and cause individuals to frequently miss school or work, resulting in decreased productivity.

Q: What are the most common allergy triggers in the spring and are they indicative of an individual suffering from year round allergies?

During the spring, the main allergic trigger is tree pollen. In the greater Philadelphia area, the most common offenders are birch, maple and sycamore trees. Often times a sensitivity to one tree pollen means a sensitivity to all tree pollens. Other springtime allergic trees in North America include cedar, alder, horse chestnut, willow, and poplar.  A unique way to identify people suffering from tree pollen allergy is by their symptoms. Tree pollen is a very sticky or adhesive type of allergic trigger, thus people often report symptoms of eye irritation out of proportion to their nasal, sinus, and respiratory symptoms. Generally when people have an allergy to tree pollen, they tend to be allergic to many other things, such as mold spores, ragweed, dust mites, as well as cats and dogs. Additionally, those who are allergic to tree or grass pollen tend to have food allergies related to tree products, such as apples, pears, peaches, plums, and tree nuts.

Q: How can spring allergies be effectively controlled so people can enjoy the outdoors?

Many patients will respond to antihistamines, nay of which are available over the counter. Antihistamines work by masking one of the six chemicals that cause an allergic reaction. Additionally, there are numerous over the counter nasal steroid sprays that help reduce inflammation caused by allergic triggers. These medications may help alleviate symptoms of spring allergies, however, medications only mask the symptoms; they don’t treat the underlying illness. Immunotherapy, such as allergy injections, administered under the supervision of a board certified allergist, is the most effective, and only scientifically proven treatment, for alleviating symptoms and curing allergic disease.

Q: Can you still have allergies in the winter?

Allergic disease can often times become aggravated during the winter months, this is due to the drying effect of heating the house, resulting in lack of proper humidification. The indoor irritants most common to provoke an allergic response are dust mites, indoor molds, and cat, dog or other pet dander. Indoor air pollutants such as perfume, cologne, scented soaps, and some laundry detergents cause allergic individuals to become more susceptible to colds, viruses, upper respiratory infections, sinus infections 

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