Monday Medical: Seasonal allergies more severe than in previous years
The old adage in mountain towns is that residents come for the winters and stay for the summers. Warm weather in our little slice of paradise brings a lot to look forward to, but it also brings something that many have come to dread. Allergies.
Right now, tree allergens are out in full force, and for those with allergies, this time of year can be quite miserable. And if you feel like your allergies have started sooner and are more intense than in years past, you’re not alone. Experts are saying this year has been, and will continue to be, one of the worst years on record for allergies.
Dr. Kristen Fahrner, a Steamboat Springs otolaryngologist — commonly called an ear nose and throat physician — said she has never seen so many patients through her office at this point in the year.
“I can’t remember being this busy, this early,” Fahrner said. “We are seeing people with not only allergies earlier, but more severe allergies in our clinic.”
Fahrner said that expert opinion blames climate change, an earlier spring and more carbon dioxide in the air. She also explained that, in Steamboat, there are a number of factors working against us.
“Warm temperatures increase pollen counts, but the length of sunny days is also a contributing factor,” Fahrner said. “We have long days, and we see a lot more sun than other places. We also have very sudden temperature changes, which increase pollen counts.”
Fahrner also pointed out that, in addition to more pollen, climate changes are making allergens more severe than in the past.
“Not only are allergens going to be more prevalent, but experts are saying they will be more potent,” Fahrner said. “Even with the same level of pollen in the air that we had years ago, that same level of pollen is going to cause worsening symptoms.”
Fortunately for those who suffer from allergy symptoms, there are some things in their favor.
“People now have more medications available to them over the counter than in the past. There are antihistamines, really nice over-the-counter eye drops and, as of relatively recently, more nasal steroid sprays,” Fahrner said.
Medication is often the first step in treating allergies, however the trick is figuring out when to start. Allergy medication suppresses inflammation and is much more effective when started sooner. Many wait until they feel miserable before taking medications, at which point inflammation becomes harder to get under control. Using sites such as pollen.com to track and forecast pollen levels can help someone stay ahead of their allergy symptoms.
In addition to medication, which aims to calm the symptoms after the fact, immunotherapy is also an option some consider. Immunotherapy gives patients repeated injections of an allergen in its purest form. Levels are gradually increased over time sparking immune system changes.
“It requires three to five years of therapy, but the upside is 85 to 90 percent reduction in symptoms,” Fahrner said. “In kids, we can actually reverse asthma, and we hope for 10 to 20 years of symptom relief.”
Additionally, Fahrner mentioned that the best thing to do is simply keep away from the allergens you’re allergic to, although that’s easier said than done.
“I’ve yet to find somebody who really is excited about exercising indoors in Steamboat, but exercising indoors would certainly help,” Fahrner said. “Also, in a mountain town, no one wants to keep their windows closed, but those little steps go a long way.”
Fahrner also recommended using saline rinses, washing skin and hair and keeping pets — which often bring in a lot of pollen on their fur — out of the bedroom. Avoiding exposure during the times of day when pollen is at its highest is also a simple step.
“If you must exercise outdoors, look to do so in the early morning or late evening, when pollen counts are at their lowest,” she said.
If you are suffering from allergies, consider scheduling an appointment with a specialist to review the options available to treat symptoms. While tree allergens will subside in the coming months, grass and weed allergens will move in to take their place. Relief for untreated symptoms often doesn’t come until the year’s first frost.
Nick Esares is a marketing and communications specialist with Yampa Valley Medical Center.
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