I suffer from allergies BIG TIME! I have dealt with them my entire life, and it can really affect day-to-day life. My symptoms change with the seasons, and I have always heard that allergies can be worse for people in this area. I talked to Collin Burkart, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians – Ear, Nose & Throat, to get some answers so I can get some relief.
Common causes of allergies
I can always tell when certain trees are blooming because that's when my allergies really flare up, so I wondered what was the most common cause of allergies. Dr. Burkart explained, "Allergies can be caused by many things in our environment. Common allergies that we often treat in the Greater Cincinnati area include allergies to tree pollens, grasses, weeds, molds, dust, cockroach and animal and pet dander."
Allergens found in our homes
I know that pet dander is a big problem, especially for people that are highly allergic to certain animals, but I also wondered if there are other things in the home that can cause a flare up. Dr. Burkart said, "There are many allergens that can be found within the home. Allergies often associated with the home include dust, pet dander and mold. Dust mites are often found in the home, especially in carpeted areas. Dust mites often build up in the bedroom on pillows and sheets as well. Mold is often found in damp areas, such is older basements, but could also be found in soil and in air outside. Cockroach allergens could also be found in homes—either from older homes or even due to new construction because new dry wall often has allergens from cockroach."
Pets and allergies
I have dogs that I refuse to give up—not to mention my daughter's two cats. And, yes, they do cause my allergies to flare up, but they are not going anywhere! So, I wondered if there was a way for someone that is allergic to still enjoy having a pet, and Dr. Burkart gave me some good news. He told me, "If someone is allergic to their pet, it is best to try to eliminate exposure to them as much as possible. However, if this is not possible, then treatment with allergy medications such as antihistamines or steroids may be helpful. Ultimately, the best treatment option to reduce sensitivity to the pet allergen is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy requires allergy testing, and then a regimen is designed either through injection immunotherapy or sublingual immunotherapy to slowly desensitize the patient's immune system to the allergen. This is the best way—and only way—to actually change the way the person's body reacts to the allergen. All other allergy treatments are designed to control the symptoms. This allergy immunotherapy is the gold standard allergy treatment and really is the best way to treat any inhalational allergen for long-lasting affect."
Allergies in Cincinnati
We always hear this area is a hot spot for allergies, but is it true? According to Dr. Burkart, the answer is yes. He elaborated, "Allergies are worse in Cincinnati and the Greater Cincinnati area. Studies have shown that this is one of the worst areas for inhalational allergies in the United States. This has to do with the local climate, especially the Ohio River Valley, and the variety of allergens that are present in this climate."
Treating allergies at home
What can I do to make it better? I think that's the question on everyone's mind this time of year. Dr. Burkart had some great tips! He advised, "The best way to treat allergies at home is to try to avoid buildup of the allergen. It is important to wash the sheets and pillowcases frequently with warm water and detergent. There are special pillows and special pillowcases that can be used to help with dust. Eliminating carpet and carpeted rooms can also help with dust. HEPA filters and frequent vacuuming can also help.
"There can be filters placed in rooms that are particularly dusty. In order to eliminate pet dander, sometimes it is necessary to remove the pet from the home. If someone is allergic to their pet or animal, and cannot eliminate it from the home, then keeping it out of the bedroom is helpful. Trying to keep it outside as much as possible is helpful. In order to treat mold, the best thing to do is try to eliminate damp and humid environments. Air dehumidifiers are helpful."
My mother and my brother have both had tests done to see what exactly they are allergic to. They found out they allergic to a lot of things, but it helps them know what to avoid. I wondered what exactly goes into allergy testing. Here is what Dr. Burkart had to say: "There are 2 ways to test for allergies. There is skin allergy testing or there is blood/serum allergy testing. Serum allergy testing involves a simple blood draw. This is a good option for people who cannot tolerate or have a contraindication to skin allergy testing.
"Skin allergy testing is the gold standard and involves a visit to the office, and after one of our physicians sees the patient and clears them for allergy testing, it can be scheduled. The testing is done in the office and takes about an hour. It involves minimal discomfort, and the allergens are introduced into the skin and the reaction is read. There can be some mild irritation to the skin, and sometimes this can itch. The symptoms are usually brief. Once the testing is completed, the results can be interpreted and the decision can be made on whether to initiate immunotherapy, avoidance therapy, symptomatic treatment with oral and or nasal medications, or combination of the above."
Medications for allergies
I take allergy medicine on a daily basis, but one thing that I hear from other people is that different medications work better for them than others. Apparently, that is true, according to Dr. Burkart. He told me, "The major over-the-counter allergy medications such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are all similar in their mechanism of action. They are all antihistamines. For some reason, some do seem to work better for certain patients. The only way to determine which works best is trial and error. There are also other medications to treat allergies, including nasal sprays such as nasal steroids, and there are various formulations of nasal steroids that also work better for some people versus others. Again, the only way to know which works best is to try these."
I also wondered if you can become immune to your allergy medication over time, and it seems like you can. He explained, "In some patients, over time, medications may seem to lose their effectiveness. This is for unclear reasons. But sometimes it is helpful to switch up which antihistamine is being used every once a while to see if a different antihistamine would work better. The same can be said for the nasal sprays as well."
There are so many things that you can do get some relief from allergies—and I don't need to get rid of my dogs! Allergies aren't fun, but they don't have to wreck my daily activities.
Need help with allergy relief? Contact an ENT at The Christ Hospital.