Suffering from Seasonal Allergies? Your Doctor Can Help!
Spring is here, and so are the dreaded seasonal allergies for many people. If you struggle to find relief, it might be time to visit your primary care doctor or allergist.
Shore Physicians Group Primary Care Physician Dr. Alex Buford of the Mays Landing office is passionate about helping her patients find relief from allergies. Not only has she suffered from allergies herself, she also received additional training in allergy and immunology to work as an Allergy Extender in Air Force Base medical clinics during her service.
“Many patients self-diagnose and self-treat their seasonal allergies, which can lead to inadequate treatment. If what you’ve tried is not working, your doctor can help you,” says Dr. Buford.
Your Doctor Can Confirm your Diagnosis
Depending on what you’re allergic to, allergy season can run from mid-February, when tree pollen allergies can start, all the way through the first frost. If you find yourself playing the “Is it allergies or an illness?” game each year, you don’t have to figure it out alone.
Dr. Buford says seasonal allergies can come with some or all of the following symptoms:
- Clear mucus draining from the nose
- Itchy ears, eyes, mouth and throat
- Headache or sinus pressure
While some symptoms can mimic those of other conditions, there are a few symptoms that can rule out allergies. “A temperature of 100.4 or greater typically does not accompany allergies. Typically mucus is thin, watery, and clear. It can be thick, green/yellow with viral or bacterial infections,” says Dr. Buford. “But if you’re uncertain, talk to your doctor.”
Your Doctor Can Recommend the Right Allergy Treatment
“For me, helping my patients find the right combination of medications is the fun and challenging part,” says Dr. Buford. There are many different over-the-counter treatments for allergies, and everyone will respond to them differently, so choosing the right ones is essential:
- Second Generation Antihistamines: “Typically, I recommend my patients start with second-generation antihistamines,” says Dr. Buford. “These are oral medications that usually do not cause sleepiness, affect your heart rate or blood pressure. They are typically safe for everyone unless you are allergic to something that is in them, of course. I encourage my patients to shop the medication, not the brand, so you’re looking for fexofenadine, loratadine, cetirizine, or levocetirizine.”
- Nasal Sprays: In many cases, Dr. Buford recommends combining the oral medication with a nasal steroid (i.e., fluticasone) or a nasal antihistamine (i.e., azelastine). “Nasal sprays can be really helpful with congestion, and they can even help with the itchiness in the ears and eyes, but you have to use them correctly. You can’t just insert the nozzle and tilt your head back because the medication will drip down your throat. You will want to tilt your head forward and tilt the spray nozzle toward the ear on the same side.”
- Pseudoephedrine: Sometimes, patients will not experience congestion relief from the above options and may need to try something stronger. Dr. Buford may then recommend a pseudoephedrine product; however, she urges patients to use these medications cautiously. “Pseudoephedrine products can cause dizziness and heart rate problems. If you take it too long, it can cause blood pressure issues,” said Dr. Buford.
- Allergy Shots: For patients who can’t avoid exposure to their allergen and are not responding to over-the-counter medications, allergy shots may be an option, but the allergies must meet specific criteria. “Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that can take 3 to 5 years to complete, with monthly shots. It’s a commitment. The end goal is to decrease your allergy response around your allergen. Some people have great success with it.”
Your Doctor Can Recommend Lifestyle Changes
In addition to diagnosis and treatment, your doctor can help you modify your home and activities to help reduce your exposure to your allergen. You may want to try these suggestions to start:
- Shut the windows: While opening windows during nice weather is tempting, you’re inviting pollen into your home, which should be your safe place. “Try to monitor pollen counts, and keep the windows shut on really high pollen days. If you must have the windows open, ensure you’re vacuuming, washing linens and curtains, and wiping surfaces frequently. You may even want to use an air purifier, which can help.”
- Skip the contact lenses: If you wear contacts, switch to glasses during allergy season. Glasses can reduce the amount of pollen that enters your eyes. If you wear contacts, the pollen can easily get into your eyes and get trapped underneath the contact lens, causing you to rub them all day.
- Wear a mask: Now that we all probably have masks readily available, consider wearing one if you’re going to be outside for a long time. “We have recommended masks if you have particularly bad allergies, at least until we get your allergies under control,” says Dr. Buford. “It’s an option to consider.”
- Get clean: After you’ve spent time outdoors, consider using a simple nasal saline spray to cleanse the pollen from your nasal passages. Dr. Buford also recommends washing your face and changing your clothes immediately; otherwise, you could continue inhaling allergens from your clothing.
Dr. Buford says managing allergies can be tricky, but you don’t merely have to suffer through it. Seasonal allergies that aren’t treated correctly can interfere with all the fun that warmer seasons bring. “Spring is a time to be active and have fun outside, but if your allergies are making that difficult, make an appointment with your doctor so you can get it under control.”
Dr. Alex Buford sees patients ages eight and up at Shore Physicians Group’s Mays Landing office in the Festival at Hamilton, 4450 East Black Horse Pike. To schedule an appointment or learn more, call 609-365-6217.