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Allergies

About forty-five million Americans suffer from allergies. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is also referred to as hay fever because workers would sneeze and develop nasal and sinus congestion when they worked around hay in the fields.  Allergies can be perennial or occur year round.

What are allergies?

Allergies are genetic and are caused by environmental conditions that begin in the immune system, which is designed to protect the body from harmful substances. Seasonal allergies occur when pollens or mold spores come into contact with the lining of the nose, throat or eyes and cause the release of histamines that trigger sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and difficulty breathing. 

Allergies

Symptoms

Allergy symptoms commonly occur all at once and will continue as long as you are exposed to the allergen. Symptoms include red, irritated eyes, a runny nose with a clear, thin, watery discharge and sneezing that occurs commonly two or three times in a row, and sometimes a headache. Some people experience hearing changes, scratchy sore throats, hoarseness and a cough. Less common symptoms include balance disturbances, swelling in the face or throat tissues, skin irritation and even respiratory problems and asthma.

To identify what is causing your allergy symptoms, a doctor may recommend allergy skin testing, also called scratch tests. This test is done by scratching or pricking the skin to allow exposure, applying an extract of an allergen to your skin and then evaluating the skins reaction.

In addition to allergy testing, a physician can conduct a complete examination of your ears, nose, throat, head and neck. This can help determine if infection or a structural abnormality like a deviated septum or polyps are contributing to your symptoms.

Treatment

To treat allergy attacks there are several over-the-counter antihistamines. Antihistamines can sometimes make you lethargic and limit the time of day you will be able to use them. Newer antihistamines such as Allegra, Claritin, Clarinex and Zyrtec are less likely to cause sedation.

Nasal steroid sprays are the most effective treatment for allergies causing nasal congestion and may reduce the need for antihistamines. Unlike antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays should be used every day to prevent allergy symptoms.

Your physician may recommend immunotherapy or “allergy shots.”  The best way to determine if you have allergies and how to spot them is to consult your physician.