For most, summer marks the end of the school year, longer days, barbecues, cold drinks, beaches, traveling and adventures. But, for the population that suffers from seasonal allergies, these things may be less enjoyable.
What is seasonal allergies? Seasonal allergies is caused by the bodies immune response to triggers. Triggers are commonly identified as pollen from trees and blooming plants, grasses and weeds. In addition, spores from mold and fungi growth are also seasonally linked.
Can seasonal allergies be controlled? Yes. There are some non-medicinal trigger-control tactics that can be done. Some tactics include:
- Avoiding prolonged periods outside of high contact risk triggers
- Wearing clothing that presents a barrier to the allergen outside
- Keeping windows at home and when driving closed
- Using air conditioner instead of fans
- Use clothes dryers rather than hanging clothing and bedding outside to dry
When trigger control tactics fail then treatment may be considered. Some individual specific information should be considered before considering treatment such as age, presence of physical or medical conditions and the use of other drugs or substances, including herbal products and recreational drugs.
Infant and children under the age of 6 years old should avoid most over the counter and prescription medications unless advised by their pediatrician. Likewise, elderly should also seek advisement of their healthcare practitioner or local pharmacist before taking over the counter medications. As the body ages, organ systems process medications differently,and basic biochemical functions change. Changes seen in the liver, kidneys, total body fat percentages, consistency of the nasal mucosa, mechanics of swallowing, and visual and general motor functioning all contribute to different responses to therapy. Dizziness and drowsiness caused by antihistamines can be enhanced among elderly and lead to falls, potential of broken bones and other issues.
Medical conditions such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, enlarged prostate cancer and other chronic illnesses need to be considered when treating seasonal allergies. In addition, pregnancy or lactation should also be considered prior to medicating as many medications may have harmful effects on the baby, particularly during the first trimester as organ development occurs. Therefore, when treating pregnant or lactating women, the focus should primarily be on trigger control.
Are there any Non-drug treatments for seasonal allergies? Yes. Although no non-drug therapy has been proven effective in providing relief there are a few solutions that may provide relief. Nasal irrigation with sterile saline solutions or the use of a saline nasal spray can be of help. Nasal irrigation works to treat post-nasal drip, or drainage down the back of the throat; sneezing, nasal dryness; and congestion. Saline helps to rinse allergens and irritants from the nose and also can be used before the administration of other intranasal medications to remove excess mucous and allow the active medication better access to the nasal mucosa. When doing a nasal irrigation only sterile or distilled or boiled water should be used. Tap water should not be used.
Humidifiers (cool-mist) add moisture back into the air and can provide relief when an dealing with a dry, itchy throat and nasal passages. However, dust mites, mold and fungi thrive in humidity so keeping humidity below 50% or between 30-40% is optimal. When using humidifiers, distilled water is best used to avoid the build-up of minerals, to clean and filter the device regularly to avoid the development of mold, and to moderate the use to achieve a humidity level of 30-40%.
Cool compresses across the bridge of the nose may reduce swelling and help with pain and irritation around the eyes and sinus cavity due to allergies. When using cold compresses on children, supervision is advised. compress should also be removed when the child falls asleep to prevent airway obstruction.
What types of medications are available for seasonal allergies? Nasal glucocorticoids, AKA steroid nasal sprays are usually first line therapy options in treating the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Drugs in this category have been studied and proven effective in children over the age of 2 years of age. Glucocorticoids may provide some relief at the beginning of treatment but usually maximum effectiveness is seen after a few days to weeks.
Oral antihistamines have been available for years and works to block the formation of histamine. This function works to relieve itching, sneezing , runny nose, and watery eyes.
There is also oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine which work by constricting the blood vessels to relieve pressure and congestion to the nose. Intranasal decongestants are sprayed directly in the nasal passage. The two most common drugs used are oxymetazoline and phenylephrine. These products are very potent and effective in providing immediate relief.
Always try trigger controll and non-drug therapies first but if medications are required consult you local pharmacist or practitioner first.
Have a happy and safe summer,