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Understanding and Treating Seasonal Allergies

    Sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes æ seasonal allergy sufferers know these symptoms all too well. For many people dealing with allergies, these symptoms may be a way of life. As they sneeze and suffer, many wonder why their bodies are reacting this way. Certain substances, called allergens, trigger allergic reactions in some individuals. Mold spores, dust mites, pet dander and pollens such as trees, grasses, weeds and ragweed are some common allergens. The allergens react with antibodies causing histamine and other chemical substances to be released, which will cause various symptoms. These symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, and itchy skin. Often allergy symptoms will trigger sinus, respiratory and ear infections. While some sufferers are plagued with an occasional seasonal allergy, others suffer year-round. Trees pollinate in the spring, grasses pollinate in the spring and early summer, weeds and ragweed in the summer and early fall. Dust mites, mold, and pet dander are major causes of indoor allergens which trigger perennial (year-round) symptoms.

Allergy prevention
     "Awareness and avoidance of common allergens is key when treating allergies," says Craig M. Wax, D.O., an osteopathic family physician practicing in New Jersey. Certain environmental precautions can greatly reduce an individualís suffering.  For example, to reduce the effects of dust and dust mites, mattresses, box springs and pillows should be encased in allergy-proof covers.  Feather and down pillows and comforters should be avoided. Stuffed animals, clutter, shelved books and other dust collectors should be minimized. In addition, High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance, or HEPA, air cleaners work well in removing allergens from the air.  Of course, it would be nearly impossible to make an entire house dust-free, but these simple precautions can be taken to create a dust-free bedroom.
 Keep doors and windows shut and the air-conditioner on to avoid triggering pollen allergies during the spring and summer. Pollen allergy sufferers should avoid cutting grass and limit their exposure to wooded areas. Using a dehumidifier will also reduce mold, another common allergen. Pet dander is a year-round allergen, which is best reduced by keeping pets outside. Indoor pets should be bathed regularly and kept out of the allergy suffererís bedroom. Other possible irritants, such as cigarette smoke or heavy perfumes should be avoided.

    Some of the most common treatments for seasonal allergies are over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. Unfortunately, many of these drugs cause drowsiness or may lead to excessive dryness of the nose and throat. Physicians can prescribe non-drowsy antihistamines. Prescription steroids and steroid nasal sprays, which work to decrease inflammation, are another treatment for allergies. Allergy shots are usually administered if environmental precautions and medications have failed to provide relief. The shots are given in a series designed to reduce sensitivity to allergens, beginning with a weak dosage once or twice a week and then progressing to stronger doses less frequently.
Some allergy sufferers become so accustomed to their symptoms that it becomes a way of life, and they accept the inconveniences of seasonal sniffling and sneezing.  Usually after treatment, they will realize the improvements in their quality of life and productivity. "Your physician can best help determine a method of treatment that will suit your lifestyle," says Dr. Wax. "The thing people need to realize is that they have options when it comes to dealing with allergies."

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