Ah ... ah ... ah ... allergies: Even certain foods can exacerbate individual spring suffering

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Story by Jamie Lampros
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Mar 19, 2012
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If you’re one of the millions who suffer from springtime allergies every year, you might be surprised to learn you may be aggravating your own misery.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has issued an alert for people to look out for five things that can aggravate suffering:

• Fruits and vegetables

• Air filters

• Spring breezes

• Procrastination

• Self-medication.

“People with spring allergies often don’t realize how many things can aggravate their allergy symptoms so they just muddle along and hope for an early end to the season,” said Dr. Myron Zitt, past president of the ACAAI.

But there’s no reason to suffer, Zitt said. A few simple changes in habit and treatment can actually make springtime a much more enjoyable season.

According to the report issued by the ACAAI, many people with seasonal allergies suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome, a cross-reaction between the similar proteins in certain types of fruits, vegetables and nuts and the allergy-causing pollen.

One in five people with grass allergies and as many as 70 percent of people with birch tree allergies suffer from the condition, which can cause tingling and swelling of the lips and an itchy mouth.

If you’re allergic to birch or alder trees, you may have a reaction to celery, cherries or apples. Grass allergies? You may want to stay away from tomatoes, potatoes and peaches.

Using an air filter to keep your home pollen free is a great idea, but make sure you get the right kind. According to the ACAAI, inexpensive central furnace air conditioning filters and ionic electrostatic room cleaners are not helpful. In fact, the latter releases ions, which can be an irritant.

Whole-house filtration systems work, but regular filter changing is a must.

Opening your windows might bring in a nice breeze, but pollen will also drift inside, settling in your carpet, furniture and car upholstery. It’s best to keep the windows shut.

You might think you can put off taking medication, but the fantasy won’t last long. Pretty soon, you’re going to be sneezing and stuffy and downright miserable. Get a jump-start by taking your medication before the season starts torturing you.

While it’s good to take your medicine, self-medication isn’t the answer. Experts say your best bet is to see an allergist who can determine what’s triggering your allergy so you can be treated correctly.

Dr. Douglas Jones, president of Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and president of the Utah Society of Allergy and Asthma, said many people get into a cycle of trying every over-the-counter medication on the market, typically getting just minimal relief.

Being seen by a specialist is the best path to treating allergies.

“Check out a physician’s credentials and make sure they are actually board-certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology,” he said. “ ‘Board-certified allergist’ does not accurately describe a physician’s credentials.”

Dr. Michael C. Scheuller, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at McKay-Dee Hospital, added that while medications can be effective in many cases, they also come with side effects — not to mention the fact that they’re costly.

“Taking medications frequently for years can become rather costly and a more cost-effective approach might be to treat them with immunotherapy, a technique to lower the body’s allergic response, which might be much more cost-effective in the long-term and allow patients to stop taking allergy medications,” he said.

Scheuller said seasonal allergies can hit as early as late February/early March in Northern Utah and usually peak in April and May.

Symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, a clear runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, wheezing and asthma-like symptoms including a nonproductive cough.

These symptoms can sometimes be confused with a cold or other upper respiratory virus, but these illnesses will usually include fever, muscle aches, nasal discharge that turns thick and discolored, productive cough, sore throat and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms.

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