The People's Perspective on Medicine

Allergy Symptoms Persist Year Round

Allergy season has blown in with a vengeance this year. People who have never suffered allergies before, even those in their 80s and 90s, are sneezing, sniffling and rubbing their itchy eyes.

Climatic conditions may have conspired to produce a bumper crop of fall pollen. If we don’t get a hard freeze, the misery could last for months.

Pollen may not be the only enemy allergy victims have to face. For many, symptoms now persist year round. That may be because their immune systems have been revved up and react to triggers such as house dust that are nearly impossible to avoid.

Our immune systems evolved to protect us against infectious disease and parasites. Those have become less common, so some people have immune systems that have become hyper-vigilant for dust mites, animal dander, mold or mildew as well as pollen.

Once the immune system recognizes a danger, it starts to churn out antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE connects with receptors on mast cells, and the mast cells go into full alert. They produce histamine and kinins that fuel inflammation. Although inflammation is helpful in fighting germs, it causes misery for allergy sufferers.

Trying to fight off germs with antibacterial soaps contains triclosan may actually make allergies worse for children (Environmental Health Perspectives, March, 2011). Kids who grow up on farms with pets and animals seem less likely to develop allergies, eczema and asthma.

Because we can’t relive our childhood, we’re stuck with the immune systems we have. What’s an allergy sufferer to do?

Short of taking an ocean cruise to get away from pollen, the next best thing is to try to reduce pollen exposure. Keeping the windows and doors closed can help a lot. Other tactics that have been suggested–though not scientifically tested–include showering and shampooing before bed and washing the family pet frequently.

Antihistamines remain the mainstay of drug therapy for allergies and can be helpful in controlling symptoms. It is crucial to select these carefully, however. Some antihistamines, especially diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can impair driving ability.

Newer antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), desloratadine (Clarinex), fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, etc) are less likely to cause drowsiness and impair coordination. They can be helpful in controlling allergy symptoms of congestion and sneezing, but after taking cetirizine for a while, stopping may be a challenge. Some people report intolerable itching as a withdrawal symptom.

Other approaches focus more on calming the inflammation. Over the counter NasalCrom (cromolyn) soothes mast cells so they don’t pump out their pro-inflammatory compounds. It works best if used at least three times a day, but some readers have reported changes in their sense of smell.

Doctors often prescribe steroid nasal sprays for severe hay fever. Drugs like Beconase, Flonase, Nasonex or Rhinocort reduce inflammation in the nose and sinuses.

Rinsing nasal passages with saline may also be beneficial. Look for products without preservatives that might be irritating.

To learn more about alternative allergy treatments, you may wish to consult Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy, available in libraries, bookstores and online at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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In 1985 I got tested for allergies-the old fashioned way-under the skin. Yeah, it was awful and took forever but I haven’t had a sinus infection, cold or flu since.
Nowadays there is a simple test called Food Safe that can test for all the food related items. One simply pricks one’s finger and drops blood on a mail-in card. My Dr. has this test available.
Removing the food allergies will make the body less sensitive to other things.
The cheaper method is an elimination diet and removing all chemicals from the home. This takes a long time and sometimes it is hard to figure out what the triggers are.
I use white vinegar in my rinse water for our laundry and skin irritations were eliminated. One doesn’t need fabric softener at all then for wash & wear.

I used Zyrtec daily for years due to year-round allergies. When I decided to go off it since it didn’t seem like a wise idea to take anything regularly for years (unless it’s a potentially life threatening condition, like high blood pressure), I experienced INTENSE itching on my palms, feet, and scalp that lasted for three weeks. It was terrible coming off of Zyrtec.

I would love to know if anyone else has had the reaction I have had to a gluten free diet. A nutritionist friend convinced me, several years ago, to try a gluten free diet (before it was all the rage like it is now). I was in a lot of pain and she assured me it would decrease inflammation and with it, my pain. There may have been some pain reduction benefit, but since I had a degenerative condition, it kept getting worse and when I could no longer walk, I had a double hip replacement and am now pain free.
However, I have noticed that since I eliminated gluten, my allergies have all but disappeared. I used to be one of the people who had year round allergies and lived with running nose, itchy, watery eyes and sinus congestion. Allergy medications do not agree with me, so I would just suffer. I seldom get any reaction anymore, even at peak allergy season. Anybody else????
Sandy

As one who suffered for years w/ sinus and hayfever problems so great you would not believe, a Dr. who operated on my sinus suggested I start flushing my nose w/ a saline solution (One heaping teaspoon per qt. the water should be boiled for three minutes and cooled b/4 use) this has worked wonders for me. I used to use it every day, but now only about two to three times per week unless I have been working in a very dusty atmosphere, in which case I flush immediately after exposure.

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