Have you been sneezing lately?
If you suffer from allergies, you’re in good company. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 50 million Americans experience some type of allergy. Residents of the Washington, D.C., metro area are also up against high pollen counts—the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked the area one the top 100 “Most Challenging Places to Live with Spring Allergies.˝ Below are some treatments to help reduce allergy symptoms.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to particular triggers, or allergens. Common allergens include pollen, dust and mold, medications, foods, insect venom, pet dander, and chemicals. The symptoms can be minor or severe.
Preventing allergic reactions
For some patients, the cause of allergy symptoms is clear. If you find that your eyes water every time you are near cats, that dusting the house makes you sneeze, or that your throat itches when you spend time in the garden, you may be able to limit exposure to specific allergens. However, if you experience allergy symptoms with no clear cause, you should talk to your doctor about testing that will help you identify your allergy triggers.
Treatment for seasonal allergies
Seasonal allergies, sometimes called “hay fever,” can be triggered by trees, grasses, flowers, and weeds. Common symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat, and itchy or watery eyes.
Seasonal allergies can often be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamine pills, eye drops, or nasal sprays. If over-the-counter treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, prescription medication or immunotherapy (such as allergy shots that gradually increase the body’s tolerance to allergens) may be helpful.
Allergies can change over the course of your life and may become more severe unexpectedly. You should let your doctor know that you are experiencing allergy symptoms, even if they are currently mild and manageable.
When to seek emergency care
While it is uncommon for seasonal allergies to trigger severe symptoms, other types of allergies often can. In fact, you can experience a major allergic reaction even if you have no history of allergies. Signs of a serious reaction include rashes, hives, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, asthma attacks, or anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous type of allergic reaction. During anaphylaxis, your immune system releases a flood of chemicals that can cause the body to go into shock. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, dizziness, a tingling feeling in the hands or feet, nausea or vomiting, chest tightness, or a rapid or weak pulse. If you have already been diagnosed with an allergy, your doctor may prescribe an
emergency treatment device called an epinephrine shot to self-administer if you begin to experience anaphylaxis. You may have seen these devices carried by people with known, severe allergies to bee stings or peanuts.
A serious allergic reaction can cause seizures, make it difficult to breathe, or can even be fatal—so it is important to take the signs seriously. If you or a family member experience the symptoms of a major allergic reaction, seek medical attention immediately. The expert care team at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Emergency Department is here to help.