When Allergies Attack

It’s springtime in Chico. We’ve had dry windy days, the trees and flowers are starting to bloom, and soon the farmers will start tilling the soil. All of that means that allergy season has begun here in the North Valley.

The molds in the soil, pollens and other allergens will soon be kicked up into the air, and from there into our noses and lungs. For those with allergies, a few months of sneezing, itchy and runny nose, itchy and watery eyes that can range from mild discomfort to pure misery are ahead. For those with allergy triggered asthma, a long season of cough and wheezing may be in their near future.

Of course, if you have simple hayfever, you can try one of the over the counter antihistamines. For occasional sneezing or other symptoms while outside, one of the short acting over the counter (OTC) antihistamines may suffice. Some of these are Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Chlortrimetron (chlorpheniramine) and DImetapp (diphenhydramine). There are many others. The main disadvantage of these is that they can be sedating and have to be taken every four to six hours. For more persistent allergies, one of the twenty-four hour non-sedating antihistamines may be a better choice. The two available over the counter are Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirazine). Another of this class, Allegra (fexofenadine), which is only available by prescription now, should be going OTC soon.

Any of these may be combined with a decongestant if you have a lot of stuffiness. Be aware though that some people may have a hard time sleeping if they take a decongestant in the evening.

What about the itchy, watery eyes? There are OTC eyedrops that may be of some help. For occasional use, one of the short acting antihistamine eyedrops may help. These have a “-A” ending. Opcon-A, Opticon-A, Nafcon-A, Vasocon-A, and others fall into this category. These are also occular decongestants, that is, they “get the red out” of your eyes. They are not meant for long term use as they can lead to rebound redness once stopped. There is one pure antihistamine eyedrop that was by prescription only until a few years ago called Zaditor which is available OTC.

Another treatment that can really help, especially after coming inside after being exposed to outside allergens, is the simple sinus rinse. Special bottles for this are available in most pharmacies and grocery stores. They come with, and you can buy, the salt packets you need to dissolve in them before use. You can make your own, however. Mix one part baking soda to two parts non-iodized (pickling) salt. Use 1/8 tsp into 8 oz. warm water for the rinse. The basic idea of these is you squeeze or pour water up one nostril, then it runs out the other one carrying with it the pollens, mold spores and other allergens stuck inside your nose out with it. The inflammation in your nose makes its secretions acidic which makes the inside of you nose feel irritated and sore. The baking soda neutralizes the acid and really soothes your nose as well.

If you can’t get your symptoms under control, they are year round, or they are triggering asthma symptoms, please see your doctor. In addition to histamine, there is another class of body chemicals that can also cause all the typical allergy symptoms called leukotrienes. Some people need a medicine to block these as well. If there is a lot of congestion, nasal anti-inflammatory sprays can be used. There are antihistamine nasal sprays and prescription antihistamine eyedrops available as well, including one that only needs to be used once daily. Your doctor can help you sort your way through this maze of potential treatments.

If symptoms still can’t be controlled or are severe, doing allergy testing may help. If you know what you are allergic to you can try to avoid that allergen. If severe enough, you may even need allergy desensitization therapy (“allergy shots”, etc.) This is something an allergist can help you with.

I hope this gives you some idea of how to deal with those springs sneezes. I wish you a happy and comfortable Chico springtime.
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