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El Nino Could Make You Sneeze

Rain Can Make Seasonal Allergies Worse

If the El Nino brings the kind of rain weathercasters are predicting, it could make life a little harder for those with seasonal allergies. While sustained rain can wash away pollen and other allergens, it can also make pollen worse.

“Some people actually get better when it rains, but some people get worse,” said Dr. Tam Nguyen, a family physician and member of the Washington Township Medical Foundation. “Plant pollen is a common allergen and rain can settle pollen, but other times it can trigger it.”

It’s true that rain washes pollen out of the environment, but first it can burst the pollen particles apart, spreading the pollen further, he explained. Heavy rain can also make tree and grass pollens worse in the springtime.

An allergy means that your body is sensitive to a foreign substance such as pollen, which causes your immune system to overreact, according to Dr. Nguyen. Typical allergy symptoms include sneezing, coughing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy or watery eyes, scratchy throat, and fatigue.

“It can also cause itchy skin with or without a rash,” he added. “People may not know that a skin reaction can be the result of an allergic response to pollen.”

Dr. Nguyen said most people with mild to moderate allergies can find relief through over-the-counter medications such as nasal sprays like Flonase or antihistamine pills.

“Flonase used to only be available with a prescription, but now you can buy it over the counter,” he said. “These types of nasal sprays are corticosteroids that help to reduce inflammation. They can alleviate symptoms like runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and scratchy throat.”

The second generation antihistamines like Allegra or Claritin don’t cause drowsiness, he explained. These types of medications block the symptom-causing histamines your body produces when exposed to an allergen like pollen. First-generation antihistamines like Benadryl are effective, but tend to cause drowsiness.

“Unless you have more severe symptoms that can’t be controlled with these medications, you should stick with these,” Dr. Nguyen said. “If you have more severe allergies or you also have asthma, you may need other treatments.”

Asthma and Allergies

Many people who have allergies also have asthma, he added. If you have asthma, you need to keep both your allergies and asthma under control through the proper use of medications like inhaled corticosteroids.

“About 30 percent of people have what we call an atopic triad, which means they have allergies, asthma, and eczema (red, itchy skin),” Dr. Nguyen said. “Allergies can trigger asthma episodes. So if you have asthma, you need to make sure you have your inhaler with you.”

He said those with more serious allergies or who also have asthma may need to take stronger corticosteroids like Prednisone when symptoms are severe. Prednisone is a prescription corticosteroid that suppresses allergy-related inflammation.

“Prednisone really needs to be reserved for more severe allergies because it has some serious side-effects,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Long-term use can cause cataracts, osteoporosis, and other health issues.”

He added that anyone with moderate to severe allergies might want to consider allergy testing to determine the exact cause of their allergy. A simple blood test or skin prick test will isolate the specific allergen.

“A blood test can tell by the antibodies in your blood,” he explained. “With a skin prick test, different allergens are placed just under the skin to see if there is a reaction. When you know exactly what you are allergic to, you may be able to avoid that trigger.”

Allergy shots are recommended for those with severe allergies, Dr. Nguyen added. A small amount of the allergen is injected into your system, with increasing doses over time. After a while, your body builds up a tolerance to it.

“There is no reason to suffer with allergies,” he said. “For most people, over-the-counter treatments are enough. There are stronger treatments for those with more severe allergies. It’s important to control symptoms for qualify of life. You can’t concentrate in school or at work if you are suffering from allergy symptoms.”

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