Tips for surviving allergy season

The warm weather has finally arrived, and with the onset of spring comes a forecast for an intense allergy season this year. Dr. Michael Marcus, an adult and pediatric allergy specialist at Maimonides Medical Center, offers a variety of strategies for coping with symptoms.

“The secret to minimizing the impact of your allergies this year is to minimize your exposure to excess pollen,” Marcus notes.

A recent study released by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology revealed that weather changes have been gradually increasing the pollen count since 2000, a trend expected to continue for the next 30 years. In addition, Superstorm Sandy left the Northeast with more humidity than normal, resulting in heightened allergy symptoms.

The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America notes that the pollen count is at its highest in urban areas between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Marcus therefore suggests taking allergy medication in the morning, instead of waiting until you experience symptoms later in the day.

“Once symptoms present themselves, over-the-counter allergy medications are far less effective,” he points out. “You should also try delaying your outdoor activities to the evening when pollen has subsided.”

Are you safe from pollen when you remain indoors? Not necessarily, according to Marcus.

“Practices that minimize the amount of pollen entering your house are also important,” he explains. “This includes taking shoes off outside, changing clothes, showering at night and keeping windows closed. Animal fur can also trap pollen, so bathing pets more often in the spring is also advised.”

When preventative measures aren’t enough to lessen your symptoms, there are three broad categories of over-the-counter oral allergy medications to try:

•First-generation antihistamines, while effective, often cause drowsiness; these include Diphenhydramine HCl (brand name Benadryl) and Chlorpheniramine (brand name Chlortrimeton).

•Newer antihistamines typically do not cause the same drowsiness, and thus do not interfere with daytime activities; these include Loratadine (brand name Claritin) and Fexofenadine (brand name Allegra).

•A third category of antihistamines includes Cetirizine (brand name Zyrtec), which causes less drowsiness than the first-generation antihistamines, but has mild sedation properties.

“Everyone responds to these medications in different ways, so it is very important to be careful the first time you take any medicine to see how your body reacts,” says Marcus. He advises that if one medication does not work, it is worth trying another – even within the same category. Marcus cautions patients to carefully read labels to make sure the medications are truly comparable.

At what point should an allergy sufferer consult with a physician?

“If it takes a daily dose of medication to control your symptoms, or if you need two or more medications to do the job, it’s worth consulting an allergy specialist,” says Marcus. “A physician can help you decide whether prescription medications or a different treatment regimen may be a more effective solution.”

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