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Runny Nose, Itchy Eyes & Sneezing – Allergy Season

April 19, 2012 9:59 AM with Dr. Ewa Schafer

With spring in the air you can expect increased levels of allergens, including: pollen, mold, budding plants, trees and grass. All of this can be a nuisance to those suffering from seasonal allergies. Ewa Schafer, MD, allergist at NorthShore answers your questions about how to relieve symptoms, identify causes and treatments and prepare for allergy season. Your participation and advanced questions are appreciated.

Angela (Moderator) - 9:50 AM:
Welcome! Today’s chat: Running Nose, Itchy Eyes and Sneezing – Allergy Season Begins will begin shortly. Please start submitting your questions and Ewa Schafer, MD will begin answering them as soon as we get started. While you are waiting for the chat to begin, feel free to visit the, Allergy, Asthma and Immunology page on our website. We will do our best to answer all of your questions, but because this is such a popular chat, the physician may not be able to answer all of your questions in the time allowed. Your understanding is greatly appreciated.

  diane k (gurnee, illinois) - 9:59 AM:
are there any medications that won't cause mood swings within 2-3 days? my husband gets depressed when taking these meds.
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
There are many treatment options for allergies and some of them can cause mood swings, such as singulair and antihistamines in some patients. An option that can help alleviate symptoms without medications is a sinus rinse (Neilmed) or neti Pot. This is a rinse done with salt water than can help to relieve congestion or post nasal drip.

  Pete (Chicago, IL) - 10:03 AM:
I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies since I was a kid. Why is it that some years are worse than others? I seem to be more affected by symptoms this year than ever before.
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
In allergic individuals symptoms can vary from day to day and season to season based on pollen levels. Over the last several years we have seen a rise in pollen levels and a longer pollen season. This is being attributed to Global warming with shorter winters and plants making more pollen. This year, since the winter was quite warm and the spring started early we are seeing higher levels of pollen. In addition, we are already seeing high levels of pollens typically not seen until later in the summer in the pollen counts. For this reason many patients such as yourself are suffering more from their seasonal allergies.

  Lily (Evanston, IL) - 10:08 AM:
At what age is it recommended to begin allergy shots? Is this an effective manner of reducing symptoms?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Allergy shots are a very effective treatment for treating allergies. In addition, they are the only "disease modifying" treatment. Meaning it can reduce or potentially eliminate the need for medications. In children allergy shots have also been shown to decrease the risk of developing asthma. Typically, we do not start allergy shots until age 5. This is because there is a risk of an allergic reaction with shots and a child must be able to tell us if they are having symptoms.

  Claire (Skokie, IL) - 10:12 AM:
My daughter who is in middle school has horrible allergies. Her symptoms resemble cold symptoms without going away after a week or so. Will she ever outgrow them? What treatment options are recommended?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Sinus symptoms can be miserable for children and affect day to day quality of life and more importantly sleep quality so I do recommend that they be addressed. There are many treatment options available. Starting with saline sprays and rinses, over the counter antihistamines (claritin, allegra, Zyrtec) and nasal sprays (nasones, flonase, rhinocort, nasacort, astelin, patanase). One of the most important things to figure out is whether allergies are actually causing the symptoms. This will allow for the treatment to be tailored to your daughter and hopefully, use the least amount of medications possible. Sometimes congestion in children can be from anatomical problems (ie adenoid enlargement, nonallergic rhinitis (ie weather changes, pollution, environmental irritants) or even a chronic sinusitis.

  teresa (evanston) - 10:17 AM:
Can you be allergic to the sun? I’ve noticed that if I spend an extended period of time in the sun in the summer I get heat rash. How can this be avoided?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
There are many skin reactions that happen with sun exposure. Some are normal reactions similar to "sunburn", but hives and other "photo" (sun) sensitivity reactions are possible. Taking some medications can make this more likely to occur. I recommend wearing broadspectrum sunscreen in all my patients. I prefer aveeno products or Blue lizard products if your skin is sensitive. If this does not work I would take a picture of the rash, when it occurs and have it evaluated.

  Jean (Wilmette, IL) - 10:21 AM:
How are allergies diagnosed? How often do you need to undergo testing?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Allergies are diagnosed by skin testing or blood testing. With skin testing the skin is cleaned with some alcohol and then "prick" tests are performed. This is a small device that holds some allergen (think pollens, animal danders, molds and dustmite). The skin prick device is then applied to your skin and a "prick" is made - this feels similar to a nail scratches the skin. If you are allergic over the next 10-15 minutes you will have a "wheal and flare" response. This looks and feels similar to a mosquito bite. This shows not only that you have allergic antibody, but that you react to it. Blood testing can be used, but false positive (or low level) positives are common and may not be clinically significant. The immune system is ever changing so allergies can change over time especially in children since they have more immature immune systems. How often you need to undergo testing depends on your clinical history.

  Martha (chicago) - 10:28 AM:
Both my husband and I suffer from seasonal allergies. Are our two children also at risk of having them?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Yes, the risk of having allergies (food, environmental, and asthma) increases if there is a family history.

  Gene (evanston) - 10:30 AM:
What are some of the common symptoms of allergies? Is there anything that can be done to help reduce them?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
There are many symptoms of allergy and individuals can have different symptoms. Watery eyes, itchy eyes, congestion, runny nose, post nasal drip, fatigue, cough, increase in sinus infections and increase in asthma symptoms can all be signs of allergy. There are many treatment options available. The first treatment we always recommend is avoiding of triggers and then medications. Allergy shots are also used to reduce symptoms and medication use over time.

  Kelly (Chicago) - 10:35 AM:
I got allergy shots for a few years when I was younger. During my college years my allergies seemed to go away. Now that I am older they seem to be flaring up again. Should I get tested again? Could my allergies have changed?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Yes you should be evaulated. Allergy shots are very effective and effects can last for many years or for decades, but symptoms can come back. Keep in mind that the treatment did work for decades and you felt well and were off of medications! Your same allergies may be back or you may have developed new ones.

  Anne (skokie) - 10:38 AM:
Aside from over-the-counter medication, are there any home remedies that can help alleviate allergy symptoms?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
It is important to avoid your allergens as much as possible. For example if you are allergic to pollens then windows should remain closed especially between 5-10am when pollen counts are the highest. Showering at night and using saline rinses or neti pot will also help to remove pollen from you hair, body and nasal passages. In general I think the best non-medication treatment that you can do at home are saline rinses or neti pot.

  Bill (highland park) - 10:42 AM:
I lived for years in the South and suffered from seasonal allergies. Now that I’ve moved to Chicago I don’t seem to be bothered by allergies. Is this common? Will my body eventually adjust and will my allergies return?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
There are regional differences in pollens (allergens) so you are probably allergic to something that grows in the South and not in the Chicago area. You may develop allergies to pollens here, but you may not.

  jack p. (evanston) - 10:44 AM:
I have food allergies, but not seasonal allergies. Is there a connection between the two? Am I at a greater risk of developing seasonal allergies because of my food allergies?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Yes, you are at greater risk for developing environmental allergies. This is called the "atopic March". Typically, eczema, food allergy, environmental allergy and asthma. Any or all of these may occur. It is common enough that in food allergic children we counsel their parents that they are at higher risk for developing environmental allergies and asthma.

  Nicole (Chicago) - 10:47 AM:
I’ve heard that eating local sourced honey can help reduce allergy symptoms. Is this true? If it is, why?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
The theory behind this is that local honey contains local pollen and this can help to desensitize to the allergen (pollen). This is the way that allergy shots work, we give the allergens in higher and higher concentrations to desensitize to the allergen. It will not hurt, but the levels are not high enough in the honey to be effective.

  Josh (Skokie) - 10:50 AM:
What are some of the most common allergens? How can I prep my home to avoid them?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Pollens (trees, grasses, weeds), mold, Dustmite, animal danders are the most common allergens. In general you do not have to avoid these unless you are allergic. There are many studies that have been done with conflicting results on whether prophylactic avoidance OR early exposure will help to decrease the development of allergies.

Angela (Moderator) - 10:51 AM:
Thank you everyone for your great participation. The chat will be ending in approximately 10 minutes. Please submit your final questions.

  Pam (Glenview) - 10:52 AM:
When do you know that your allergies are chronic? Not only do I get itchy skin and sinus congestion, but I also sometimes have trouble breathing. Allergy medications don’t seem to be much help. Are there more advanced treatments available? Could I also maybe have asthma?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
If you have had symptoms for more than 6-12 weeks or several seasons in a row your symptoms are chronic. There are many treatment options available. I cannot stress enough that there are more options than the over the counter antihistamines. Also, often a combination of treatments are needed for more severe symptoms. If you are having trouble breathing it may be asthma and it should be evaluated. It is never normal to have trouble breathing!

  Amy (Lincolnwood) - 10:56 AM:
How effective are allergy shots? What results can I expect after receiving them?
Dr. Ewa Schafer (NorthShore)
Allergy shots are the most effective treatment option that we have for the treatment of environmental allergies. In general, 80-90% of patients have improvement on shots. This may be complete resolution of symptoms off of all medications, but this does not occur in all patients. The only problem with allergy shots is that they are time consuming. Shots typically include weekly injections for 4-6 months and then monthly for 3-5 years in order to have long lasting benefits. Usually patients see improvement after about a year of therapy. I tell my patients that this is a long term treatment option to feel better and decrease medication use. Studies have shown that the majority of patients are feeling better and need less medication in the first year.

Angela (Moderator) - 11:01 AM:
Thank you for participating in our online chat today. An online transcript will be available shortly.

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.