Seized by the Sneeze

Earlier this week I woke up with a sensation that can only be described as a tiny, angry man standing on my chest squeezing an oriental rug around my throat while pouring a bag of Quikrete into my nose. Though you may know it by its more common name: allergies.

Yes, it’s that time of year again—when pollen becomes poison and azaleas become adversaries. Chances are if there isn’t someone in your home right now dealing with allergies, someone will get seized by the sneeze soon enough. In this month’s Living with Teenagers, Dr. Donna Scudder, an internist in Nashville with two teen daughters, has a health-focused Q&A dealing with mono, HPV, and, yes, allergies.

So since there are probably plenty of others breaking out in hives looking at all the flowers during The Masters, I thought it might be helpful to give a preview of our April issue by printing her answer below. Here’s what Dr. Scudder has to say about allergies:

Allergic rhinitis, or “allergies in the nose,” is characterized by nasal congestion, sneezing, tearing, runny nose, itchy eyes, itchy throat or nose, puffy eyes, and post-nasal drip after exposure to pollens during certain times of the year.

Some allergens, like dust, can cause symptoms year-round. Contact with allergens causes the cells to release histamine, which causes the nose lining to swell and the production of mucous.

The diagnosis is made based on symptoms, family history, and the effectiveness of anti-histamines or medication. Often, patients have asthma or eczema. Skin testing may help to identify triggers and plan therapy.

First line treatment is avoiding the allergens, but nasal saline spray can moisten and clean nasal passages. Antihistamines—like Claritin, Zyrtec, Benadryl, and clortrimeton—are available but can cause drowsiness.

Decongestants with pseudoephedrine shrink the swollen tissues and open passages, but decongestant sprays (Afrin and others) should be avoided since they can cause more congestion later. Steroid sprays are most effective but can cause dryness and nosebleeds.

Anti-histamine sprays, eye drops, and montelukast (Singulair) are available by prescription for severe cases. Immunotherapy is suggested for patients with year-round allergies that can’t be treated with the above measures.

So I’ve told you my story. How about you? Are you battling allergies? What’s the most nagging health challenge in your home?

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