Weapons Against Sneezes
Good news for those who sniffle through the pollen season
Spring is when young hearts turn to love, goes the adage, but for as many as 1 in 10 Americans, spring marks the start of the dreaded hay fever season. The airborne pollens that wreak all the havoc are less than the width of an average human hair, yet allergy patients spend some $800 million annually on doctors’ fees, allergy shots, and prescription medicines to battle them.
No area is completely pollen-free, though dry areas and those at high altitudes or near a large body of water may provide some relief. Consult an allergist if you are considering a permanent change in residence, however. A doctor may instead be able to prescribe a series of injections that can greatly reduce your sensitivity to pollens without requiring a move to the desert.
Several new drugs may also help bring relief. Such relief is typically found in two ways – antihistamines, which prevent the symptoms from occurring, and decongestants, which work after the symptoms have begun. The negative side effect, particularly with antihistamines, has been drowsiness.
Here’s what the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology says about some of the newer drug and treatment options:
Cromolyn Sodium (Intal): This asthma medication has recently become available as a nasal spray (Nasalcrom) or an eye drop (Opticrom, Vistacrom) and could help nearly a third of the nation’s hay fever victims. It is used to prevent the severe symptoms of allergies and often reduces or eliminates the use of antihistamines, decongestants, or steroids.
Terfenadine: Usually found under the brand name Seldane or Seldane caplets, this antihistamine is equal in effectiveness to many other antihistamines but is unique in that it does not cause drowsiness. The medication is deigned to stop the hay fever symptoms from occurring by preventing the release of histamine in the body. Histamine is what makes your eyes tear and itch and your nose run and causes swelling of nasal passages and sneezing.
Astemizole: Usually found under the brand name Hismanal, astemizole is a nonsedating prescription antihistamine. Its only-daily dosing schedule is enough to help relieve allergic rhinitis, or hay fever symptoms.
Beclomethasone and Flunisolide: Neither are new, but both of these cortisone-based drugs are being more widely prescribed now because of their success in fighting inflammation better than many otheer medications. Beclomethasone can be found under the brand names Vancenase, Beclovent and Vanceril; flunisolide under the names Nasalide and AeroBid.
Meeting Asthma Head-On
That wheezing or persistent cough may be a sign that you’re asthmatic
It may be that there are more dust, pollen, mold and chemical pollutants in the air to irritate us. Or perhaps we’re evolving into a more allergic species. Whatever the reasons may be, the American Lung Association reports a dramatic 36 percent rise since the end of the 20th century in the number of Americans with asthma. As many as 15 million Americans currently suffer from this lung condition, which blocks airflow and makes breathing difficult. Over 5,000 die of the condition in the United States each year.
One of the biggest problems, according to a panel of medical experts convened by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, is that many doctors lack the training necessary to properly diagnose and control the condition in patients at an early stage. Even when the diagnosis is made, the panel found, doctors often err by only treating symptoms and not the underlying causes of an asthma attack.
Attacking a problem early is the key to limiting its impact, the asthma specialists agree. Severe asthma attacks can be sharply reduced by limiting environmental irritants and using anti-inflammatory drugs to control the airway inflammation that leads to attacks rather than relying on medication that can only help relax ariways once attacks have started.
Asthma experts also strongly recommend that asthma sufferers regularly test their lung capacity at home with a device known as a peak flow meter. Such monitoring can help detect early signs of asthma attacks before more obvious symptoms such as tightness in the chest, wheezing, and persistent coughing appear.
Something to sneeze at
Phoenix is no longer the allergy haven it’s reputed to be
The arid desert air of Phoenix, Arizona, has long beckoned allergy sufferers and other victims of fecund humidity, a call often echoed by well-meaning but misinformed allergists. The truth is, however, that Phoenix is no haven for the bleary-eyed masses.
In fact, with a 10-month growing season made possible by irrigation and ever-increasing pollution triggered by rapid population growth, Phoenix has become a hotbed of sneezing and sniffling. In most metropolitan areas, allergy sufferers make up no more than 15 percent of the population, but in Phoenix, that number may run as high as 25 percent.
Ironically, Phoenix’s reputation for soothing air may be one of the leading causes of this anomaly. Some doctors suggest that the influx of hopeful allergy sufferers has created a pool of allergy-prone genes that are passed down from generation to generation. The odds back this up; if both parents suffer from an allergy, that child has a 50 to 75 percent chance of inheriting it.
As it turns out, a new location probably wouldn’t have helped the afflicted breathers anyway. Though a change of environment may bring temporary relief, repetead exposure to new materials will eventually bring on the same old symptoms.
Steeling yourself for the sneeze season
Depending on where you are, the pollen season runs from February or March until October. The farther north you live, the later the season’s start. Trees pollinate first, the grasses and weeds.
For ragweed sufferers, the most hospitable areas include:
- Florida’s extreme souther tip.
- Regions west of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington.
- The central Adirondacks.
- The wooded areas of Maine, New Hampshire, northern Minnesota, extreme northern Michigan, and California.
- The desert regions and forests of the Rocky Mountain.
- Hawaï’i, Alaska, and the Caribbean.
Asthma Troublemakers to Keep in Check
Among the most common triggers of asthma attacks, according to the American Lung Association, are allergies to foods and other household products. Here are some of the most likely culprits.
- Air pollution: Weather inversions, Traffic jams, Parking jams, Smoke-filled rooms.
- Allergies: Foods such as nuts, chocolate, eggs, orange juice, fish, milk, or peanut butter.
- Pollens from flowers, trees, grasses, hay, or ragweed. Mold spores.
- Animals such as rabbits, cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, chickens or birds.
- Feather pillows, down comforters.
- Insect parts, as from dead cockroaches.
- Sensivity to sulfites, a food preservative, or to aspirin.
- Dusts: Cloth-unpholstered furniture, carpets, or draperies that gather dust. Brooms and dusters that raise dust. Dirty filters on hot air furnaces and air conditioners that put dust into the air.
- Emotional stresses: Fear. Anger. Frustration. Laughing too hard, crying coughing.
- Exercise: Wheezing from overexertion, especially in cold weather.
- Household products: Vapors from cleaning solvents, paint, paint thinner, liquid chlorine, bleach. Sprays from furniture polish, starch, cleaners, room deodorizers.
- Spray deodorants, perfumes, hair sprays, talcum powder, scented cosmetics.
- Infections: Colds, other viruses. Bronchitis. Tonsillitis. Sore throat.
- Irritants at work: Dusts, vapors. Fumes from wood products (western red cedar, some pine and birch woods, and mahogany). Flour, cereals, grains, coffee, tea papain. Metals (platinum, chromium, nickel sulfate, soldering fumes). Cotton, flax, hemp. Mold from decaying hay.
- Nighttime: Lying down, fatigue, accumulating mucus.
- Smoke: From cigarettes, cigars, pipes – either yours or someone else’s.
- Weather: Exercise in cold air. Changes in seasons.
Note that the incidence of asthma has doubled among the young in the last decade.