Ah, springtime in the Rockies. Windy, with highly changeable weather, an occasional blizzard with snow accumulations, large temperature changes and an occasional gentle soaking rain or wet snow. In other words — unpredictable. What is predictable, though, and might be surprising to some, is the arrival of springtime in the Rockies is also the beginning of seasonal allergies.
I have already started to see patients who have runny noses, puffy eyelids and watering, itchy eyes. No, it’s not a winter cold, it’s early seasonal allergies to tree pollens. And predicting how bad an allergy season will be is an inexact science.
And while there have been no dramatic advances recently in allergy treatment, if you are allergy-prone, you can take a number of steps to minimize the misery.
It may sound obvious, but avoiding the allergy triggers is the No. 1 measure. There are many steps you can take to eliminate or minimize your exposure to allergens and improve seasonal allergy symptoms.
But not going outside is not practical for most residents in this valley. Blossoming trees are one of the biggest culprits here. Poplars — aspens and cottonwoods — and junipers are abundant in our region. They are pollen dense, and on hot windy days, allergy sufferers know it’s just kicked up more. Sometimes a HEPA filter in the house will help to keep air clean and offer some relief.
The very basic, easiest, most natural method is to rinse with saline several times a day and/or use ocular saline for the eyes to wash the pollen away. And it’s best to do so before the pollen can even trigger the allergic reaction. There are no side effects, it’s low cost and very effective, but you must be diligent. Carry it with you and use it several times throughout the day.
In general there is no cure for allergies, but there are several types of medications available — both over-the-counter and prescription — to help ease and treat those annoying symptoms like congestion and runny nose. These allergy drugs include antihistamines, decongestants, combination drugs, corticosteroids and others.
For many folks, the first go-to is over-the-counter nonsedating antihistamines. Antihistamines have been used for years to treat allergy symptoms. They can be taken as pills, liquid, nasal spray or eye drops. Over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops can relieve red itchy eyes, while nasal sprays can be used to treat the symptoms of seasonal or year-round allergies.
When your body comes into contact with whatever your allergic trigger is, it makes chemicals called histamines. They cause the tissue in your nose to swell, which makes it stuffy, your nose and eyes start to run, and your eyes itch.
Antihistamines reduce or block histamines, so they stop allergy symptoms.
Antihistamines work well to relieve symptoms of different types of allergies, including seasonal allergies, but they can’t relieve every symptom. To treat nasal congestion, your doctor may recommend a steroid nasal spray, but these should be used for only two to three days maximum.
Examples of over-the-counter antihistamines include: Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, Chlor-Trimeton, Dimetane, Zyrtec and Tavist. Ocu-Hist, Zatidor and Naphcon-A are OTC eye drops.
Examples of prescription antihistamines include: Clarinex and Xyzal, which are oral medications; Astelin, which is a nasal spray; and Patanol, Elestat and Optivar, which are eye drops.
Sometimes, patients take oral decongestants. Side effects of oral decongestants include elevated blood pressure, insomnia, agitation and heart arrhythmias, so discuss with your doctor before using.
I advise my patients to go with the nonsedating antihistamines unless they are taking it right before bed. Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec all fall in this category.
Finally, if all of these measures are not working, discuss getting a referral from your doctor for an allergist to consider immunotherapy injections, which can be very helpful for some patients.
You should always see your primary care provider to develop the best prevention plan for you. And patients who suffer from allergy-induced asthma should see a physician because the coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath caused by allergy-induced asthma can have long-term ill effects over time.
Dr. Kimball Spence practices at Roaring Fork Family Practice with offices in Carbondale and Willits. Call 970-963-3350.