By Ian Roberts – Contributing Writer and Specialty Account Executive at RE Pharmacy
Allergies! The blocked-up sinuses. The watery eyes. The constant wondering if is it really a head cold? My relationship with allergies goes back several years to when my family moved from industrial London to the countryside of Gloucestershire. It was my first exposure to Hay Fever and being that I had no resistance to it, I was a prime target. My classmates thought it was hilarious that I spent most of the years sneezing with my watery eyes.
A few years later, I moved to Columbus, Ohio. There, I encountered a violent stomach reaction to a dish of extra-spicy curry, which led to a series of excruciating allergy tests at Riverside Hospital. At the conclusion of the tests, the two assigned Allergy and Immunologists informed me (with great glee) that not only was I allergic to just about every pollen, weed, and grassy thing on the planet, but that I had “multiple” food allergies. I was thinking, “did they have the right person? Were they talking about the bloke behind me?” Nope! These allergies were ALL mine and they were mine to deal with.
“The two assigned Allergy and Immunologists informed me (with great glee) that not only was I allergic to just about every pollen, weed, and grassy thing on the planet, but that I had ‘multiple’ food allergies.”
– Ian Roberts
The list of food allergies went on forever and I wasn’t happy to see onions and tuna on that list (thankfully, chocolate was not on the list). But, I was told to keep the portions down, and to avoid mixing too many of these foods together. As a stubborn Brit, this advice was promptly ignored, though the overall results haven’t been terrible. I don’t even like half the foods I am allergic to, so things have been relatively under control. But occasionally, some issues will arise. For example, recently I had a serious reaction to Coconut Clusters (with organic super seeds) from Innofoods that I picked up from Costco. I don’t think organic works for me. I was up all night with serious cramps with no EpiPen on hand.
So, with all that said, it’s only natural to ask, “what are allergies?” Seasonal allergies are conditions caused by the hypersensitivity of the body’s immune system, usually to elements in the environment which are seen as otherwise harmless. Apart from my blocked-up sinuses and runny nose, symptoms of this hypersensitivity include shortness of breath, itchy rash, sneezing, and red eyes.
We are all made differently. So, for every person, potential allergies are due to both genetic and environmental factors. Food allergies are regarded as different conditions, which are seen as abnormal immune reactions to allergens present in food. Really, the main treatment for food allergies is dietary avoidance.
We’ve all heard of histamines and antihistamines when it comes to allergies. But, what exactly, are they?
Histamines – The policemen of your immune system:
Histamines get alarmed when they detect an allergy trigger (or allergen) in your body. As a result, they start the processes of removing those allergens from your body. They see these triggers as a threat to the body and take immediate action. The only problem is that these histamines get a bit over zealous (hypersensitivity), which results in allergy symptoms such as itching, runny nose, watery eyes, etc. Our body’s “policemen” are trying to do their job as part of our defense system. For example, the difficulty in breathing is caused by the histamines producing mucous in the lungs to protect them from allergens entering the lungs during inhalation. So, how do we combat this combat against allergens? Enter antihistamines
Antihistamines – The foreign altruists:
Antihistamines work against the histamines in order to mitigate their effects. Their job is to reverse and treat the allergy symptoms that are caused by histamines. Often, decongestants are used to treat nasal congestion – usually in conjunction with antihistamines.
Allergy injections are a different method of treatment. They are a form of immunotherapy, and work by deliberately introducing various substances into a person. These substances (such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, etc.) have been determined to be allergens through skin test allergies conducted on the person. The purpose in this method is to build up the person’s immunity to the allergens, thereby reducing symptoms over time.
It’s important to remember that depending on the person, the injections can start at one or two times a week for several months. The dosage of each session gradually increases until the person reaches a “maintenance dose” – a dosage that is used to continue the effects of the injections. Once the maintenance dose has been achieved, the person can expect an allergy injection every two to four weeks for up to four to five months. If successful, an allergy injection can be administered only once a month for three to five years thereafter.
For me seasonal allergies are easier to deal with, especially in the Midwest. My allergies would start in the Spring, continue through summer, and instantly stop when the first frost occurred. That’s been a bit tricky in San Diego, where my “seasonal” allergies have become “year-round” allergies. So, I’ve had to take my allergy meds all year. For me, the results of antihistamines and decongestants – OTC or prescription remedies – have varied.
Oral meds such as Allegra, Zyrtec and Xyzal have done nothing for me, while Claritin-D 12 Hours has been my champion. I have to take it early in the morning otherwise I can’t sleep that night. Benadryl, however, renders me unconscious.
Of the inhalers, Nasacort, Nasalcrom, Atrovent et al, don’t do a thing for my allergy-stricken body, while Flonase is more successful. I now take Costco’s Aller-Flo nasal spray, which is their generic form of Flonase. That, combined with Claritin-D 12-hours, keeps these allergies under control.
With the fabulous Southern California rains we received recently, expect a spectacular explosion of pollens and grassweeds this summer. So, we allergy sufferers will need to be vigilant. If you have regular seasonal allergies, allergy injections may be worth considering. So, talk to your doctor.