Allergies are among the most common chronic health conditions worldwide and statistics show the number of people affected is increasing. In the US alone, researchers believe that nasal allergies affect about 50 million people. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), each year 17.9 million adults and 7.1 million children are diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, commonly called hay fever.
Allergic reactions like rhinitis (inflammation of the nose) occur when the immune system mistakes an otherwise harmless substance (an allergen) as an invader. The system overreacts and produces antibodies that cause an allergic reaction. Hay fever is commonly a reaction to pollen from trees and grasses, or ragweed. As the summer concert and touring season kicks in, here is what experts recommend.
Don’t wait until allergy symptoms begin before taking medications. Start taking what worked for you in the past before the season starts. There are five common types of over-the-counter treatments.
- Antihistamines are taken by mouth or as a nasal spray and can relieve sneezing and itching in the nose and eyes. They also reduce runny nose and, to a lesser extent, nasal stuffiness.
- Decongestants are taken by mouth or as a nasal spray or drops and help shrink the lining of the nasal passages, which relieves nasal stuffiness. These nose drops and sprays should be taken short-term.
- Nasal corticosteroids are used in nasal spray form. They reduce inflammation in the nose and block allergic reactions. They are most effective for allergic rhinitis because they can reduce all symptoms and have few side effects.
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists block the action of important chemical messengers, not just histamine.
- Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray that blocks the release of chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, including histamine and leukotrienes. This medicine has few side effects, but must be taken four times a day.
Consider seeing an allergist who can pinpoint the cause and help you find the best treatment. Don’t disregard getting immunotherapy treatment (allergy shots). According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), shots help reduce hay fever symptoms in about 85% of people with allergic rhinitis. It can actually save you money over time on reduced prescription and over-the-counter medication costs. And, if you include the cost of missed gigs and opportunities, doing away with your allergies can actually save you a bundle.
To avoid allergens and reduce symptoms don’t touch your face and wash your hands often. Use HEPA filters in your vacuum and air conditioners in your car and home. Keep windows shut during the high pollen and mold seasons. Wash your bed linens and pillowcases in hot water and detergent to reduce allergens and use dust mite proof covers. Keep pets out of the bedroom to reduce pet dander allergens in your bedding.
Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to reduce pollen getting into your eyes. Avoid exposure to other types of irritants like smoke. Avoiding certain foods may help. About one-third of seasonal allergy sufferers get the sniffles or sneeze when they eat certain raw or fresh foods such as apples, cherries, oranges, plums, almonds, and walnuts. This is because their immune system confuses the proteins of pollen with those of the foods.
When traveling, check destination pollen counts before you go. Make sure you get a smoke-free, mold-free, pet-free hotel room. If traveling by vehicle, be sure its air filters have been recently replaced, and if possible, have the ventilation/air conditioning system cleaned. Pack needed quantities of medications, plus a backup supply in a separate location. Before leaving, check the extent and limitations of your medical insurance to make sure you will be covered.
For help finding an allergist visit the AAAAI (www.aaaai.org) or the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (www.acaai.org) websites.