[Editor’s note: This article was originally hosted on MyFamilyDoctorMag.com, our sister site.
It’s now featured here as part of our new general-health section.]

Sneezing

by Kathleen A. Sheerin, M.D.

The joys of spring! Warm days, mittenless walks in the park, budding flowers, gentle breezes filled with pollen … a sneezy, itchy, wheezy existence that can last from the first bud on the maple trees until the heat of summer strikes in June.

Crazy spring.

Here are a few things you may not know about spring allergies—along with tips to deal with them.

TIP #1: Ornamental flowers don’t cause most allergies.

In the past, many people called spring symptoms “rose fever,” blaming the beautiful roses that bloom during late spring. In fact, seasonal allergies have nothing to do with roses at all. They’re just guilty by association.

Rather, invisible pollen particles from trees, grass and weeds, along with mold spores, make for all the suffering. Even your ornamental trees (dogwoods, Japanese cherry) and bushes (azaleas) are not to blame.

Dirt might decrease allergies

The hygiene hypothesis

TIP #2: Dirt might be good for kids.

“As a child, I don’t remember having so many friends with allergies,” say many of my patients. The hygiene hypothesis is one attempt at an explanation.

The basic premise: Kids these days have too little exposure to germs, which negatively affects their developing immune system. Being in daycare, having lots of siblings—even being around animals and playing in the dirt—may all lessen your infant’s or toddler’s chance of becoming allergic.

Of course, this is still just a theory, so stay tuned to see how it pans out and what recommendations may come of it.

Books adTIP #3: Antihistamines aren’t your only option.

Assuming that you’ve tried antihistamines and decongestants and you keep your windows closed and your air conditioner on when inside, here are a few more options to ward off the misery:

  • The latest additions to the fight are prescription leukotriene modifiers (Singulair, Accolate), which combat a chemical in the body that causes inflammation. These medicines have few side effects but are not effective for everyone.
  • An often overlooked and underappreciated therapy is immunotherapy, or allergy shots. This is a series of injections using small doses of the thing to which you’re allergic. It helps your body gradually change its immune response and is effective in up to 90 percent of people, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. People with moderate to severe allergies should consider immunotherapy especially if they don’t respond to allergy medications, can’t avoid the allergens or have bad side effects to their current meds.

For people with moderate to severe allergic asthma, Xolair may help. It targets an antibody involved in causing allergic reactions. It’s not FDA-approved for plain old seasonal allergies, though, so if you don’t have asthma, don’t even try to get it. Your insurance wouldn’t cover it, your health-care provider wouldn’t know what dose to give, and you’d have to pay around $10,000 a year for the once- or twice-monthly shots.

TIP #4: The future looks promising!
Best Ways to Take Allergy Medicine

Learn an allergist’s insider tips about making your allergy treatments work best in “Allergy Treatment: What Medicines to Take For Allergies–and How to Take Them.”

The (hopeful) future for allergy sufferers:

  • Allergy-shots-without-the-shots: Take the allergen by mouth instead of through a needle. People have used these treatments in Europe for several years, and they seem to be effective for those with mild allergic diseases.
  • Preseason vaccine: Get a few shots before the allergens start circulating.
  • DNA vaccine: Stimulate the immune system without actually using the allergen, thus reducing your risk of side effects.

For most people, there is no need to dread the coming of spring. If you suffer every year, see an allergist. He or she can determine what you’re allergic to and develop a personalized treatment plan.

KATHLEEN A. SHEERIN, M.D., a specialist with The Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, is board-certified by both The American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.