What Doctors Wish You Knew About Allergies
For one, don't try to treat them yourself.
BY STEPHANIE ANDERSON WHITMER
It's not just you: More people are suffering from allergies than ever before. The advice these doctors give their closest pals can help you get relief and enjoy spring again.
1. Stop stressing.
"When a person with allergies is under stress, the immune system can respond by making their symptoms worse. And I often tell my friends and family, if you're not coping with your stress, your allergy medicine may not be as effective. It's like there's a leak in the boat. Case in point: I once had a patient who suffered from allergies and migraines. After adjusting her medications, I told her to eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. After six months, those things had not only improved her allergies but also decreased the frequency and severity of her migraines. She's on less medication now for both conditions." — Neil Kai, M.D., fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and allergist at Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, South Carolina.
2. Change up your beauty routine during allergy season.
"When friends with seasonal allergies need to be outside on high-pollen days, I tell them to take their prescribed medications before they head out and to wear a hat and sunglasses to keep pollen out of their hair and eyes. But it's also important to know that mousse and other sticky hair products can turn your hair into a pollen magnet. Moisturizers and sunscreens are a necessity, but since they can cause pollen to stick to your skin, too, you should shower and wash your hair at night so you don't transfer pollen onto your sheets." — Clifford W. Bassett, M.D., medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care in New York City, professor at New York University School of Medicine and Cornell University Medical College, and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and immunology.
3. Don't wait to start treating your seasonal allergies.
"I tell people all the time to start seeing an allergist by February or early March and to start taking their medications by mid-to-late March, depending on what they're allergic to. That's sooner than allergy sufferers would have acted 10 or 15 years ago, but the environment is different today than it was then. There's plenty of research that links climate change to higher carbon dioxide levels, which lead to accelerated plant and pollen growth. That means more intense allergy seasons that start earlier and last longer. There's no doubt that in the last few years, I've seen a marked rise not only in the number of people suffering from allergies — some of whom have them for the first time as adults — but also in the intensity of symptoms. It's a common thing I hear from my friends: 'I've never had allergies before' or 'I only had allergies when I was a child, but now they've come back.' I tell them to blame climate change." — Neeta Ogden, M.D., spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and practicing allergist in Englewood, New Jersey.
4. Be careful with antibiotics.
"There's no doubt that there's been an increase in allergies and asthma worldwide, and it might have something to do with the microbes that live in our gut and respiratory tract, both of which can be altered by an unhealthy diet and antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy some of these colonies of bacteria, and some research suggests that may predispose someone to allergies and asthma. Fortunately, we're starting to move past the age of everybody taking antibiotics for everything — we know now that they're unnecessary for most ear and sinus infections. But I still remind my friends and family that they and their kids should use antibiotics wisely and only when needed." — Timothy Craig, M.D.,distinguished educator of allergy, asthma, and immunology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
5. Allergies are like sleep apnea.
"When a girlfriend or one of her kids isn't sleeping well, I always suggest they be evaluated for allergies. Allergies can affect your quality of sleep to the same degree that sleep apnea does. When you're congested, you can have those micro-arousals when you wake up gasping for air. You don't get the amount of REM sleep you need, so you wake up tired, you're unproductive at work, you fall asleep in the car — you do all the things that people with sleep apnea do. A lot of people think their allergy medicines make them tired — and some can — but you may actually be drowsier when you're not being treated." — Janna Tuck, M.D., fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and allergist at Allergy Partners of Cape Girardeau in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
6. Stop self-medicating.
"Friends will call me and say, 'I've tried this over-the-counter medicine and it works for a while, but then it doesn't seem to do anything anymore.' That tells me their allergies are getting worse. Antihistamines don't zap histamines. They just work to block the receptors where histamines activate, and even at that, they only block about a third of them. So over time, as you become more and more exposed to a specific allergen, there's a snowball effect and your symptoms get worse. It appears that the antihistamines aren't working as well, but really, they're doing what they've always done. That's why roughly two-thirds of allergy sufferers won't find relief from over-the-counter medications. They may benefit from prescription meds, but at least half of them would be better off with allergy shots or tablets, which stop the body's allergic response." — James L. Sublett, M.D., president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and managing partner of Family Allergy and Asthma in Louisville, Kentucky.
7. Toss your air fresheners.
"Sure, they make your house smell nice, but some air fresheners, scented candles, and wall plug-ins contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are toxic to us. Think about it: You can smell them because these chemicals go into the air and then into your nose. For an allergy sufferer, that can make your symptoms worse and even trigger asthma attacks. If you don't have allergies, it can still irritate your eyes, nasal passages, sinuses, and throat. My girlfriends will say, 'But I need them. I love for my home to smell wonderful.' I tell them, 'No, you don't. Just clean your house!'" — Tuck
8. Pollen can trigger food allergies.
"One third or more of people with a pollen allergy may develop oral allergy syndrome (OAS), a cross-reaction between food and pollen that may be more pronounced during pollen season. Proteins that are either in or on the surface of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables — including apples, pears, celery, carrots, peaches, and cherries — cross-react with similar proteins found in tree, grass, and ragweed pollen. Personally, I often have trouble eating apples and cherries during pollen season; with OAS, your body can't tell the difference between their proteins and birch pollen. My throat gets itchy when I eat them, though peeling and cooking them usually helps. Roughly 2% of people who have OAS will develop more prolonged, persistent, and serious allergic reactions. My sister had OAS with kiwi. When her symptoms worsened, I suggested she avoid kiwi and carry an epinephrine auto-injector, just in case. Anyone who experiences food-allergy symptoms should see a board-certified allergist." — Bassett
This story originally appeared on RedbookMag.com