Coping with Spring Allergies
Monday, April 28, 2014

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel

As I write this, I’m happy to report that Spring is officially here. I know this not because of the weather (there’s currently snow on the ground!), but because of the sinus congestion and runny nose I’ve been fighting for more than a week now. Many of you may be in the same boat, suffering from seasonal allergies or, more medically, Allergic Rhinitis. Where do these symptoms come from? How can they be remedied?

First, let’s consider the diagnosis: Allergic, meaning a damaging immune response by the body to a substance; and Rhinitis, meaning inflammation of the nose. So, symptoms stem from the body’s own immune response to something it has deemed harmful. Allergies develop over time as the body becomes hypersensitive to dust, dander, pollen, or any number of other benign substances.

When exposed to these substances, the immune system goes into overdrive, releasing all sorts of toxic chemicals to kill, capture, or slow the progress of the allergen into your body. This results in a number of symptoms that include:

  • Watery eyes, to dilute the levels of allergens and rinse them from the body;
  • Itchy eyes, to promote physical removal of allergens by rubbing;
  • Increased mucous production, to trap allergens before they enter the body;
  • Runny nose, secondary to watery eyes and increased mucous production; and
  • Sneezing, to force foreign substances out of the body.

The combination of these symptoms is enough to drive many patients to seek medical care. Fortunately, there are many ways to get relief, all aimed at suppressing or preventing the body’s response to allergens.

Some simple activity modifications can be helpful: monitor the pollen count and avoid going outdoors on warm and humid days, when pollen counts tend to be the highest. When you come in from outdoors, change your clothes and wash your hands, face and hair (when possible) -- this will limit continuing exposure to irritants that can stick to skin and clothing. Avoid rubbing your face or eyes, as this may exacerbate your symptoms by increasing histamine release as well as depositing more allergens.

Many medications are available to reduce allergy symptoms. Over the counter (OTC) anti-histamines provide significant relief, but may cause drowsiness and so should be used with caution. The antacid medications famotidine and ranitidine work by reducing histamine release, so they can be helpful as well. Nasal saline and an apparatus called a Neti pot are useful for irrigating the nasal passages, thinning mucous secretions, rinsing out allergens and improving symptoms. Prescription nasal sprays come in two varieties: steroids – which inhibit the body’s immune response to allergens -- and antihistamines, which block the histamine release that causes symptoms. Because there are so many ways to treat allergies, you should speak with your medical care provider to determine which is right for you.

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856-384-0210