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Joe Poelker

Release Date: 4/15/2013

Allergens arrive early - misery is close behind

Dr. Wagstaff

Donna Wagstaff, M.D., Family Practice Specialist at St. Anthony's Medical Center

As many as 40 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal allergies that result from grass, weed or tree pollen or various molds. Both genes and environmental factors play a role in determining who is affected by allergens. In and of themselves, allergens are harmless; but, for someone with allergies, they can make life pretty miserable.

The immune response of a person with allergies reacts to exposure to allergen triggers by releasing chemicals like histamines. While these fight off the allergens, they also cause allergy symptoms. These may include sneezing; coughing; runny nose; red, swollen and itchy eyes; breathing problems; wheezing; headaches; hives; skin rashes; stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea.

To determine exactly what you are allergic to, your doctor may perform a variety of different skin tests and/or blood tests. Once the culprit is identified, limiting your exposure to the offending allergen is the best way to reduce your symptoms.

If you have hay fever – or any pollen-related allergy -- stay indoors, with the windows shut, when the pollen count is high. If possible, install an air filter on your furnace/air-conditioner to trap any allergens and keep them out of the air flow in your home.

If you have to spend time outdoors, schedule your activities later in the day, since pollen is more prominent in the morning and dissipates as the day wears on. This is particularly true if your activity involves physical exertion, like riding a bike or playing tennis. Breathing hard means inhaling more allergens – which means more misery. After spending time outside, to avoid bringing the pollen indoors, you should remove your shoes, change clothes and take a shower.

To help relieve your symptoms, antihistamines that can be bought over-the-counter are available in eye drops, nasal sprays and oral medications in pill or liquid form. Decongestants can help relieve a stuffy nose. Your doctor may prescribe higher-dose medications if your symptoms persist. If those remedies don’t work, immunotherapy is the next step – allergy shots.

Allergy shots keep the body from over-reacting to the allergen. The patient receives regular injections, each one slightly larger than the last one, until the maximum amount is reached. This regimen treats the immune system by building up a tolerance to the allergy. The shots may take a few months to be effective and may need to be continued for several years.

The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms, your age and your overall health.

Dr. Wagstaff, a family practitioner with a special interest in women’s health, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. She practices at Telegraph Road Family Medicine, 4438 Telegraph Road, 314-543-5996. For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.

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For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.

Working as trusted partners, the physicians and employees of St. Anthony's Health System will deliver care distinguished by its demonstrated quality and personalized service. We will be visibly engaged in improving the health and well­ being of the communities we serve in South County and beyond. We will stand together, proud to set the standard for independent community health systems.