Printer Friendly

Spring's thing.


Spring! That joyous time when nature awakes from her winter sleep and life returns to the planet as tiny buds burst forth and delicate shoots work their way out of the soil to reach for the sun. Boy bud meets girl bud, the bees get into the act - and 15 million Americans begin their annual rituals of sniffing, sneezing and itching.

Whether it's called hay fever, rose fever or whatever, allergic rhinitis is no fun, and our government spends $125 million annually on allergy research through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Institute estimates that nearly 10 percent of doctor office visits are for allergic rhinitis, not counting the multimillions patients spend for drugs to treat the problem.

Technically, what we call hay fever is a specific allergy to ragweed, a ubiquitous plant native to North America that pollinates with remarkable precision by mid-August. Allergy to tree pollens in early spring, followed by grass pollen allergies some weeks later, is somewhat less common than allergy to ragweed, but no less miserable. For some, however, the problem is year-round, with common household allergens such as mildew, dust, mold, and animal dander being the offenders. (Strictly speaking, allergy to dust is actually allergy to a microscopic member of the spider family, the dust mite, that inhabits every one of our homes.)

Why some persons become allergic to these agents but others do not is unknown. Allergies do tend to run in families, but not all allergic members of the same family will necessarily have the same allergy. The mechanism of allergic response to any agent is essentially an immune response. When an allergen first enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies against it and continues to do so each time that allergen again invades the body. This may go on for years without noticeable effect, but, more often, the body soon gives up stockpiling antibodies and releases a number of substances into the nasal and bronchial passages to presumably discourage the invaders. Unfortunately, it is the host that is quickly discouraged; these substances (of which histamine is the best known) cause sneezing, burning and itching of the nasal mucosa, and constriction of the bronchial tree, producing asthma.

Skin tests can often pinpoint the specific allergen, but medical history may be all that is needed, as, for example, in the case of sneezing, itching eyes and palate, and watery nasal discharge that begins promptly each year in mid-August. Sometimes, however, even history and skin tests fail to reveal the cause of the symptoms, and more complex laboratory procedures are required.

Once the allergen is identified, either by test or by guess, prevention is the best line of defense. Pollen levels are highest in the morning, so staying indoors during that time is recommended. Air conditioning and electrostatic filters in warm climates during the pollen season will help, as will any other measure that reduces pollen exposure. For ragweed sufferers, a trip abroad in late August/early September is great for those who can afford it!

Many forms of treatment are available, such as desensitization (allergy shots), a cumbersome and lengthy (sometimes yearlong) procedure - and a last resort for most. Antihistamines are particularly useful for pollen allergies, and two newer ones, Seldane and Hismanal (available only by prescription), avoid the drowsiness typical of virtually all the others.

For many pollen-sensitive persons, however, all these preventive and therapeutic measures have become irrelevant with the advent of some remarkable nasal sprays that have become available in recent years. Sold under the names Nasalide, Beconase and Vancenase, these drugs may totally eliminate sneezing, itching and nasal discharge and, when used carefully and according to directions, may provide welcome relief year after year. If you suffer from pollen allergy, and your doctor has not yet offered you one of these drugs, you would do well to encourage him or her to let you use one on a trial basis. Many physicians have apparently been reluctant to prescribe these new medications possibly because many patients do reasonably well on antihistamines and preventive measures. Many who have persisted in getting their doctors to prescribe one of these nasal sprays, however, have been able to abandon all other forms of treatment and enjoy virtually complete relief for the entire pollen season.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:allergies
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Previous Article:More bad news for smokers.
Next Article:Shop around and save money with generic drugs.

Related Articles
"In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to...." (hay fever)
My allergy bothers me when I'm outside enjoying the nice weather. I take prescription medicine, but I still usually get sick. How can I enjoy being...
Or too many tears?
My six-year-old daughter has nosebleeds frequently during the winter months. She keeps a cold, it seems, until late spring. What causes this problem...
Ask Doctor Cory.
Relieving asthma and allergies.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters