Dr. Kennedy explains the watery-eyes-stuffy-nose syndrome in off season
April 29, 2014
High moisture levels through the fall and winter mean a longer spring for Grand County, and for many, a longer season of itchy throats, runny noses and swollen eyes.
Seasonal allergies are mostly caused by the pollen levels blooming flowers and budding trees are known for, and Dr. Jim Kennedy with Byer's Peak Family Medicine in Winter Park, expects allergies to be heightened this year. He provided information on what causes allergies and advice to help county residents breathe easy this season.
What causes allergies?
It's a genetic problem you inherit from your family, usually. Things that inherited with the same genes are asthma, eczema and hives. It's an overreaction of the immune system to pollen or whatever the allergen is. Your body thinks it's being invaded and tries to react.
Do people ever come into your office confusing allergies with a cold?
Almost every day. With a cold, you usually feel really sick or often have a fever. Symptoms come and go over the course of a week or two. Allergies last longer. If there's an itching in eyes, throat or ears, it's always an allergy. Plus, you should consider the time of year. Most colds come in the winter, most allergies come in spring, summer and fall. But we see people all the time that think they have chronic colds, but they have allergies instead.
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What's the best thing to do during allergy season?
Stay inside. The best way to deal with allergies is to avoid them as much as you can. If it's windy and you don't have to be outside, it's better to stay in. I'm assuming many can't do that, since most of us live here because we like to be outside. So the initial treatment for most people is antihistamines you can buy over the counter.
Which antihistamines do you recommend?
Not every one works for every person, so you may need to try several. Take them as directed and don't wait for the symptoms, because some take a while to work. Recently, internasal cortisone spray became available over-the-counter instead of by prescription. That works extremely well for a lot of people. If that doesn't work, you can see a doctor for prescription antihistamines. For people with severe allergies that are long-lasting around the calendar, there are allergy shots as well.
Another thing that works for a lot of people is washing allergens off of you. I'm allergic to horses, but I like to go riding. So in cases like that, or if you're allergic to your dog or cat, washing your face and hands to get the allergens off it is pretty helpful.
Why do some antihistamines cause drowsiness?
Because they're not specific in where they react, so they also act in the brain center. Most antihistamines available now are non-drowsy. They still make some people drowsy, but if you take them every day, the drowsiness goes away but they keep working.
How can someone tell what they're allergic to?
Oftentimes, it's just history. If every time you're around a dog, you get an itchy nose, water eyes and a scratchy throat, you're probably allergic to the dog. You can also pay attention to the season you get allergies. In the spring, it's tree pollen. In the summer, it's grass. In the fall, it's weeds. You'd have to get tested to figure out specific allergen. Most people with allergies are allergic to lots of things. It's unusual to only be allergic to one thing. It's also very common for people to be allergic to lots of things, but only be bothered during one part of the year. You could be allergic to your dog, but don't notice until a lot of other allergens are around, and more are triggering a reaction.
What about mold allergies? Is there a higher risk of them during the mud season while it's wet?
We don't have many molds around here since it's dry, but people with mold allergies can have symptoms year-round. With mold, if you can't see it, it can't bother you. It can't jump through walls. It has to release the spores into your space. A swamp cooler or humidifier theoretically could spread more mold around the house by blowing it around, though. Or if there's a crawl space that stays wet, the furnace could suck up spores there and spread them around, but that would be the only way.
What else do most people not understand about allergies?
Some allergy medications quit working after a period of time, so you might need to switch to another one. Take them the way they're prescribed. You can talk to the pharmacist for help.