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'Tis the season for allergies

April 20, 2001

'Tis the season for allergies



By KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Achoo!

Gesundheit!

'Tis the season.

continued

Spring is here, and along with the lovely flowering trees comes pollen. Along with pollen come allergies.

An estimated 35 million Americans have upper respiratory symptoms - sneezing, coughing and postnasal drip, itching eyes, nose and throat - allergic reactions to airborne pollen, according to information on the Web site of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at www.niaid.nih.gov.

Hay fever, the common name for pollen allergy, is one of the most common chronic diseases in the U.S., according to the institute.

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What is an allergy?

It's the body's reaction to a substance that is harmless to most people. Your body's immune system is trying to protect you. If you have a pollen allergy, it regards pollen as an invader. It's war.

Dr. Nicholas Orfan, a Hagerstown allergist and immunologist, compares cells in your nose and the lining of your eyes to "time bombs." They "explode" when they come into contact with pollen, he says. They release substances - primarily histamine, and that causes allergy symptoms.

In this part of the world, allergy season runs from March to July, Orfan says. There's a little bit of a break before the fall allergy season starts up.

What can you do about it?

Avoid going outdoors if there's a lot of pollen in the air. To keep airborne pollen out of your house, close your windows and run the air conditioning, Orfan suggests.

Oh, come on! It's spring. The weather is pretty. You want to be outside.

People want to "smell the flowers," Orfan acknowledges.

There are treatments for allergies that alleviate the symptoms but don't provide a cure, Orfan says. Medications are available by prescription, he says. Nonsedating antihistamines - including Claritin and Allegra - that are advertised in magazines and on television can provide relief without making you drowsy. Orfan expects that such medications will be approved for over-the-counter availability by the Food and Drug Administration.

Nasal sprays also can help. Topical nasal steroids - different from anabolic steroids used to increase muscle mass - can be effective in treating allergies and are safe in recommended doses.

Cromolyn sodium is another type of nasal spray that helps some patients with allergies. And, if used for a few days, nasal decongestant sprays and drops can provide relief for some patients, but can lead to more congestion if used for longer periods, according to the institute.

For more severe allergies, immunotherapy - a series of shots - is an option. This is the only treatment available that may reduce symptoms over a longer period of time. Orfan sees improvement in 80 percent of people who choose immunotherapy.

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