Allergy sufferers rely on treatment for sneeze relief

Justin Costley

In Minnesota, winter and spring are synonymous with sneezing, runny noses and coughing to many people. For some, however, the symptoms include others like watery, itchy eyes that can persist at various times throughout the year.
Fortunately for sufferers, numerous treatments are available over the counter or through the University’s Boynton Health Service.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports as much as 20 percent of the population suffers from allergic diseases, including hay fever and asthma.
The academy also reports that at least 35.9 million people suffer from seasonal hay fever symptoms each year, accounting for 8 million doctors’ visits and $3.4 billion in health care costs.
Allergies are caused by the immune system’s abnormal reaction to allergens including animal skin flakes, food, pollen, insect bites, dust, mold or medications. Some of these allergens can be carried through the air on invisible air particles.
Cow’s milk, peanuts, shellfish, eggs, wheat and soy cause the majority of reactions in food allergies.
When a person is allergic to something, his body builds up antibodies for that particular allergen. Researchers have found allergy sufferers have 10 times as much of these antibodies in their blood as unaffected people.
If the person comes into contact with that allergen, those antibodies combine with the allergen itself to produce histamine and other chemicals in the body. It is the release of these chemicals that produce the symptoms that are felt.
Asthma, hives, hay fever and anaphylaxis are among the most common of all allergies. Hay fever, an inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, occurs sparingly or seasonally and acts as only a minor annoyance to sufferers.
Asthma, a narrowing of the lung’s bronchial tubes caused by sensitivity to environmental allergens like pollen, mold or dust, and anaphylaxis that causes a swelling of body tissues including the throat, can pose serious and life-threatening risks to patients.
Reactions to medications, insect bites or food are the most common causes of anaphylaxis.
“It can go all the way from being a nuisance to death,” said Dr. Malcolm Blumenthal, University professor of medicine.
Besides being a hassle, hay fever and the constant congestion it leads to creates an inviting target for bacteria to invade and could lead to sinus infections.
While many antihistamine drugs are available at the local drug store, most carry annoying side effects like drowsiness and dryness of the mouth. Prescription medications like Claritin or Allegra produce good results without those side effects.
Blumenthal said if people aren’t able to avoid possible allergens or if over-the-counter treatments aren’t helping, it might be time to consult a doctor to find the cause of the problem.
“For simple hay fever, if you know it’s the cat and you can avoid it, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If you are confused and don’t know what’s going on, then I think you should see a specialist in the area to help decide what prescription drugs might be more beneficial.”
In addition to prescription medications, prescription nasal sprays might be a preventative measure to help alleviate future allergy symptoms. A more long-term relief option is an allergy shot.
After testing a person for allergens that cause reactions, a mixture is combined to form an allergy serum, which when given to the patient through a weekly series of shots will gradually build up blocking antibodies to that allergen. Typically this program continues for two to five years.
Dr. Deborah Sandberg, physician at Boynton General Medicine Clinic, said it might take a couple of trials before finding the right option for a patient, but once they do, there are positive treatment options.
“We can help most people a lot,” she said. “There is a very good chance that you can get some good relief from your symptoms.”

Justin Costley covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612)627-4070 x3224.