What can I do about my allergies?
Mark Rose, MD, is a board certified allergist on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center who was named 2009 Top Doctor by Phoenix magazine. His office can be reached at (602) 843-2991.
Question: I moved to the Valley 10 years ago and have since developed severe allergies. I now take a prescription nasal spray because I can’t breathe out of both nostrils. Is this something I’ll need to take for the rest of my life? If so, is that safe?
Answer: Unlike other parts of the country that have designated allergy seasons, the Valley is a year-round hotbed for allergens. No winter frost means plants, trees, grasses and weeds are in bloom throughout the year. For instance, summer Bermuda grass is a huge allergen for many people, but winter rye grass found at homes, businesses and golf courses doesn’t offer much relief. As a result, allergy sufferers often deal with ongoing symptoms like congestion, sneezing, itchiness, post-nasal drip, and swollen and tearing eyes.
While the list of allergens is seemingly endless, some of the most common culprits in spring include pollinating trees like the olive, mesquite and palo verde varieties. Top that with plentiful winter rains and you’ll find an increase in weeds and native grasses that are tough on sinuses.
Since about a third of the country suffers from allergies, it’s no surprise that pharmacy shelves are filled with over-the-counter nasal sprays, decongestants and antihistamines. However, I urge people to use caution when it comes to treating allergy symptoms with over-the-counter nasal sprays, which are addictive with daily use and lead to worsening nasal congestion, itching and sneezing. In addition, over the counter decongestants like pseudoephedrine can have significant side effects including dry mouth, urinary retention and increased blood pressure. With that being said, I have seen patients experience good results with the over-the-counter non-sedating, 24-hour antihistamines Zyrtec (Cetirizine) and Claritin (Loratadine).
Unlike over-the-counter brands, prescription antihistamine and steroid nasal sprays prove quite effective. Unfortunately, some people require a daily dose in order to experience relief. For those individuals, allergy treatments like allergy immunotherapy “shots” may desensitize them to certain allergens over time.
If you’re looking for a long-term fix for chronic allergies, ask your family physician for a referral to an allergist who can help identify possible treatment options based on your individual symptoms. Severe allergies have been linked to the onset of asthma, chronic sinus infections and other health issues, so it’s best to nip allergies in the bud.