Seasonal allergies: part of life in East Tennessee Your IMA physician can help with testing and treatment

November 26, 2012
Stephen P. Lorino, MD
Latest posts by Stephen P. Lorino, MD (see all)

By Dr. Stephen Lorino

“We’re No. 1!”

While we unfortunately can’t claim the ranking for the UT Vols football team, the people of East Tennessee have the dubious honor of being first when it comes to allergies. For four of the past five years, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has named our region “Allergy Capital of the Nation.”

What makes this area beautiful – lots of open land with plentiful and varied trees, grasses and flowers – also causes runny noses, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion and headaches. What’s more, according to a recent study by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, global warming appears to be causing longer growing seasons for allergic culprits as well as increasing the amount of pollen they produce per plant.

Your IMA physician can help by determining your allergic triggers and recommending over-the-counter or prescription medications to reduce symptoms, as well as immunotherapy for more severe allergies.

What’s your trigger?

To handle your allergies, it is important to first determine the allergens that affect you and cause symptoms. For less severe allergies, this may simply require a closer observation of your environment. Do your eyes itch and water when you get around cats? Are you plagued by sneezing fits when you’re outdoors in the springtime? Try taking note of things that cause reactions and share them with your doctor.

For individuals with more severe allergies, allergy testing is a good place to start. Your doctor will askquestions about your diet, previous illnesses, environments and lifestyle, and then proceed with a skin prick test, an intradermal skin test or a patch test. Since allergy medicines, including over-the-counter antihistamines, stop allergic reactions, you will have to go without allergy medicine for a few days before your test.

  • In the skin prick test, a small amount of substances are placed on the skin, which is pricked to allow the allergens to penetrate the skin’s surface and then observed for a reaction. This test is used most often when the specific allergen is unknown.

What’s your diagnosis?

If your symptoms are acute (fewer than 14 days) and include symptoms such as non-severe sneezing, watery eyes and runny nose, over-the-counter (OTC) medications will be appropriate. If your symptoms are chronic (longer lasting) or become severe, it is recommended that you make an appointment to see your IMA physician. Often, visiting a doctor will result in one of two diagnoses: sinusitis or rhinitis.

Sinusitis, commonly called a sinus infection, is inflammation of the sinuses that occurs with a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. Many people confuse sinusitis with “having allergies,” but the two aren’t necessarily related. A sinusitis diagnosis comes in three different stages – acute, sub-acute, and chronic. Treatment includes decongestants or prescription antibiotics depending on the severity and cause of symptoms.

Rhinitis, a common chronic nasal problem in adolescents and young adults, usually begins during childhood. Allergic rhinitis is often called hay fever. It and can cause sinusitis in sufferers. Most individuals with rhinitis have a genetic predisposition to the condition as well as consistent exposure to allergens, which affects the predisposition and activates the reaction.

What’s the treatment?

Allergy prevention can cover a range of methods. For those with severe allergies or who suffer more than three months of the year, doctors often recommend immunotherapy. It does not cure allergies, but over time the procedure greatly alleviates the symptoms associated with allergic reactions. Your IMA primary care physician can perform allergy testing and immunotherapy in the office.

For those with milder allergies, simple, at-home remedies may be enough to alleviate symptoms and suffering. Try a Neti pot or other nasal irrigation device to thin mucus and wash allergens out of sinus passages with a lukewarm, mild saltwater solution.

Contact wearers should try wearing glasses more often during allergy season. Allergens tend to adhere to contact lenses, causing more irritation than normal. Glasses keep allergens away from the eyeball and the tear duct. Other quick fixes include taking off shoes at the door, showering before bed, washing hair more frequently, and frequently laundering bed linens in hot water.