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March 21, 2006 > Control Seasonal Allergies - Before They Control You

Control Seasonal Allergies - Before They Control You

Spring is in the air. And so is an abundance of pollen. For seasonal allergy sufferers, springtime can be one of the worst times of year for sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and itchy ears and throats.

Allergies are abnormal reactions of the body's immune system to various organic substances called allergens. When an allergen enters the body, the immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to attack the allergens. Many people suffer from seasonal respiratory allergies caused by pollen or grasses. Those seasonal allergies often are compounded by reactions to year-round indoor allergens such as dust mites, molds and pet dander. The only way to determine whether your symptoms are due to allergies is to conduct skin tests or blood tests to determine whether you have developed specific antibodies to various allergens.

"In the Bay Area, people can suffer from respiratory allergies year-round because of our mild climate, but allergens from pollen and grasses are at their peak in the early spring and fall," says Dr. Steven Curran, a family medicine physician at Washington Hospital. "Although colds and respiratory allergies can produce similar symptoms, colds generally last only a week or so. Allergies can last much longer - as long as you are exposed to whatever is causing the allergic reaction."

The tendency to develop allergies is often inherited, so children whose parents have allergies have a higher likelihood of being allergic, too. In addition to respiratory allergies caused by airborne "environmental" allergens, many people also have allergic reactions to various foods, chemicals, medicines or insect bites and stings.

"Some seasonal respiratory allergies produce multiple symptoms, including itchy eyes and nose, hives or rashes, and sneezing or wheezing," Curran says. "For people who have asthma, allergies may be significant triggers for asthma attacks. Allergies also can make asthmatics more susceptible to non-allergy triggers, such as respiratory infections. In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction may cause anaphylaxis, which is characterized by difficulty in breathing and swallowing, or swelling of the lips or tongue. If you experience any of those symptoms, it is imperative to call for immediate medical help."

Curran notes that treatment for seasonal allergies falls into three general categories:

  • Avoidance - Avoid contact with the specific substance causing the allergy.
  • Medications - Over-the-counter and prescription drugs such as antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays can provide effective treatment. Anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators may be used for allergy-related asthma. Epinephrine, delivered by injection, is used to treat severe allergic reactions.
  • Desensitization - A series of injections of small amounts of allergen over a period of several months or even years, gradually increasing the dosage so the body builds up resistance over time.

"You may need to apply a combination of the three forms of treatment," Curran observes. "Desensitization is not a 'quick fix,' but it can be very effective for people whose quality of life is severely affected by allergies. It's important for you to work with your doctor to tailor an individual treatment plan that helps you deal effectively with your allergies. It's also important to seek treatment early in the allergy season because it is easier to treat allergies early than to wait until your symptoms get out of hand. You need to take control of your allergies before they take control of you."

If you would like to find out more about a treatment plan to deal with your allergies, call Washington Clinic/Warm Springs at (510) 651-2371 for an appointment. The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and is located at 46690 Mohave Drive, Fremont.

For more information about Washington Hospital's primary care clinics, located in Warm Springs, Newark, and the newest in Union City, visit, click on "Our Facilities," and select "Washington Hospital Clinics" from the drop-down menu.
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