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Allergy season on the rise

Kaley Andrews, Staff Writer

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Recent rains and heavy winds have set Sacramento blooming and allergy sufferers sneezing, coughing and cursing Mother Nature as stirred-up allergens saturate the air. The dreaded allergy season has begun.

For a life-long allergy sufferer, spring is the worst season of the year. Severe allergies can prove to be socially and professionally restrictive as well as miserable to experience.

“Sometimes I get the allergies that affect my eyes, and they get very itchy and watery and swollen,” said Sean Tillman, 47, a health sciences major. “The worst symptoms would have to be the swelling of the eyes, and then in the evenings it becomes almost asthmatic, it’s horrible.”

Seasonal allergies typically afflict sufferers in the spring and summer months, but can manifest year-round, according to Medicinenet.com. Symptoms range from irritating machine-gun sneezing to itching, watery eyes, a runny nose and excess mucus production.

Some symptoms can be far more severe, especially for asthma sufferers, as allergies can worsen asthma symptoms, said Michelle Barkley, the Cosumnes River College nurse.

“When your first line of defense goes down…your body’s trying to fight off the allergens, it narrows your airways, it makes it more difficult for you to breathe, hence, starting that cycle of asthma,” Barkley said. “Asthma works on the smallest, microscopic pieces of our lungs, which is our alveoli. It collapses them, making it hard for air exchange.”

However, there are ways to alleviate allergy symptoms. Environmental control is one of the first steps in controlling allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic suggests that allergy sufferers should stay indoors on dry, windy days, avoid gardening and lawn maintenance chores, remove clothes that have been worn outside and take allergy medication before symptoms start.

Allergy medication, or antihistamines, are also among the first line of defense for allergy sufferers, relieving the symptoms for up to 24 hours by reducing histamine production in response to allergens. They may result in sleepiness, though there are antihistamines that are non-drowsy, Barkley said.

However, Barkley said antihistamines are not always effective, especially for those who become immune to them. Immunity can be fought by alternating medications, or switching between antihistamines.

“Use your allergy medication in moderation,” Tillman said. “And if one doesn’t work, or if one works and quits working, then find another one and alternate.”

Rinsing the nasal passages using a sterile saline solution is another option, Barkley said.

Nasal irrigation directly flushes mucus and allergens from the nose, and has the added benefit of being inexpensive and very effective, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“We have a neti pot,” said Heather Martin, a 26-year-old history major with a fiancé who suffers from allergies and uses nasal irrigation to alleviate his symptoms. Martin said it does help her fiancé, but it takes some time to learn to use.

For those who have severe allergies and cannot find relief, one option remains: Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. Allergy shots gradually introduce increasing amounts of the allergen into the body, effectively decreasing sensitivity to allergens, accordingto the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

In the beginning, patients must receive shots on a weekly basis for several months before reaching a maintenance dose, according to WebMD.com.

Though severe anaphylactic reactions can occur, they are rare, according to the AAAAL. Typically, anaphylactic symptoms include wheezing, swelling of the throat, nausea, dizziness and tightness in the chest.

More typical reactions involve redness and swelling at the site of injection.

Effectiveness of immunotherapy is typically linked to the length of time of the treatment program, according to AAAAL, and can prevent the development of new allergies.

Allergy season is miserable, but allergy sufferers can take steps to combat Mother Nature’s onslaught.

“Do what you can with your environment,” Barkley said. “Know that the season will pass, but stay as healthy as you can. Basic health things, to keep you healthy enough to ward things off.”

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Allergy season on the rise