Q: How can I prepare for the upcoming allergy season?
Dr. Srinivasan: The general approach for airborne allergens is to:
- Limit your exposure
- Wash off accumulated allergens on your body at the end of the day
- Learn to use the right medications.
Another simple and effective way to control your allergies is to focus on your bedroom. Keep allergens out by closing windows and avoid tracking in outdoor allergens by showering in the evening. HEPA filter units and dust mite proof covers also help.
Q: What kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) therapies and medications are available? What about medications from a doctor?
Dr. Srinivasan: Some common OTC medications include:
- Saline (salt water) sprays, rinses, and artificial tears: They can be very helpful for some individuals.
- Antihistamines: Short acting ones, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), are generally not recommended for routine use. The major 24-hour antihistamines like loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine are now widely available.
- Nasal steroid sprays: These are the most recent to make it OTC. Your doctor can also prescribe many of these.
There are several other medications that are prescription-only, including other steroid sprays and aerosols, antihistamines, and anticholinergic nasal sprays. You should carefully read the product information and directions, especially the active ingredients and duration of use. Even though medications are OTC, drug interactions and side effects can still occur.
Q: What should I know about these medications if I have unrelated health conditions?
Dr. Srinivasan: The variety of brands and combinations of allergy and cold/sinus medications can be very confusing. The same active drug can be presented in a wide array of brands and combinations. I often see patients taking the same or similar active drug, but in different brands or combinations. Make sure to read the product information carefully. You can also bring your medications to the clinic and your doctor can tell you how to use them.
Q: How can I tell if my symptoms are related to allergies, or an illness like a cold or the flu?
Dr. Srinivasan: The pattern and symptoms are key. Viral infections like cold and flu peak in the fall and winter months. A cold or upper respiratory infection tends to last about three to ten days. They sometimes result in fever, body aches, or sore throat, and those are not allergy symptoms. While sneezing, itching, runny nose, congestion, and generally feeling run down can occur with either allergies or infections, the type of inflammation is different and needs a different treatment approach.
Q: How can I find out what the allergy conditions are in the area right now?
Dr. Srinivasan: Vancouver Clinic’s Salmon Creek location has the only National Allergy Bureau-registered pollen counter between Seattle and Eugene. During allergy season, you can visit aaaai.org/nab to see up-to-date reports for Clark County, and you can also sign up for automated email reminders when the counts are reported.