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Spring Allergies Fact of Life For Many Living in Southwest Ohio

The right medication and lifestyle changes can transform springtime for sufferers

DAYTON, Ohio (March 12, 2013)Joseph Allen, MD,  can pretty much set his spring calendar by the look of the patients coming through the door of his Vandalia practice. Come early March, symptoms such as watery eyes, runny nose, coughing and itchy ears fill patient’s electronic medical charts. It’s officially allergy season.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Southwest Ohio is one of the most challenging places to live for those with spring allergies. In 2012, Dayton, Ohio, ranked No. 10 on the foundation’s annual spring allergy list for having a worse-than-average pollen count. The foundation also found that the area’s population has a lower-than-average use of allergy medication.

Spring allergies may be a fact of life for many in Southwest Ohio, but it doesn’t have to determine their everyday quality of living. Medication and lifestyle changes can make allergies very manageable in this part of the Buckeye state where especially wet springs create breeding grounds for mold and pollen, said Dr. Allen with Family Medicine of Vandalia.

Seasonal allergies – while extremely inconvenient and uncomfortable –are the body’s way of trying to take care of itself and fight against materials it doesn’t recognize.  

“We have an immune system that is designed to attack foreign material so we don’t have persistent infections, but what happens is the immune system starts to get a little confused and it begins to attack things that otherwise wouldn’t harm us such as pollen in the trees and grass,” Dr. Allen said. “So you get this tree and grass pollen and the immune system goes after it. Part of the immune response is what we see with allergies: the runny nose, the cough and just being uncomfortable.”

Most allergies first appear during infancy or childhood, but truth is that individuals can develop allergies at any point in their life, according to the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Allergies may feel like a cold to someone who is experiencing them for the first time. Dr. Allen said the best way to pinpoint the problem is by diagnosing through treatment.

“When someone comes in and they are not feeling well, I usually tell them there are three things it could be: It could be viral, bacterial or it could be allergies,” he said. “We talk to them about all of it and they decide which one it would most likely be and if (the treatment) doesn’t work then they come back and we try one of the other ones.”

There are several different options to treat allergies with over-the-counter medications. Physicians may prescribe medication if those don’t do the trick. Changes in lifestyle can also have a big impact. For instance, it is recommended to stay indoors with closed windows until 4 p.m. on days when the pollen count is extremely high.  Smoking cessation is another significant step allergy sufferers can take.

“If you are smoking it decreases your lung’s ability to compensate and your (allergy) symptoms tend to be a little bit more severe,” Dr. Allen said. “Also, smoking decreases your immune response.”

Meanwhile, the best line of defense for allergy sufferers may be timing. Dr. Allen advises his patients to come into his office a month before their symptoms typically flare up. Allergy medications take time to get into an individual’s system and take effect, and starting a month before allergy season is recommended. 

And if the symptoms seem unbearable?

“It can be hard for some people,” Dr. Allen said. “But there are certainly many things we can do medically to help patients with their symptoms. To find the right treatment that works for them, patients should seek help from their medical professional.”

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