Spring Allergies: A Q&A with Our Top Expert
How to handle the runny nose, itchy eyes, and sinus pain of spring allergies
It’s spring-time again and all across the country, people with allergies are
sniffling, sneezing, and generally suffering from a surfeit of spring
allergies. This year, Michael W. Smith, MD, chief medical editor at WebMD, sat
down with nationally acclaimed allergist Jordan S. Josephson, MD, to get the
latest news on causes, treatments, and home remedies for allergic
reactions. Josephson, author of the recently published Sinus Relief
Now: The Groundbreaking 5-Step Program for Sinus, Allergy, and Asthma
Sufferers, is the director of the New York Nasal and Sinus Center and
attending physician at Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital/Lenox Hill
Most people think of allergy symptoms as just sneezing and
itchy eyes. But what they don’t realize is that the symptoms and health effects
can be far worse.
A: Absolutely. What starts as simple itching and sneezing can turn
into something much more serious. As your allergies worsen, your nasal passages
and sinuses become swollen and congested. This can lead to a sinus infection.
The infected mucus draining from your sinuses can drip into your stomach and,
if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), cause symptoms to act up.
And if this mucus drips down the trachea into your lungs, it can irritate your
lungs and your airways.
If you have asthma, it can flare up and lead to bronchitis. If the mucus
drips over your Eustachian tube, the tube that connects your middle ear to the
outside of your head, the tube becomes clogged and you can’t equalize the
pressure in your ear. This can lead to ear problems, such as decreased hearing
from excess pressure in the ear, ear pain, or even ear infection.
Sleep apnea, caused by a blockage anywhere from the tip of the nose to the
back of the throat, is another complication of allergies or sinus problems,
leading to sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue. Sleep apnea can cause heart
disease if it’s not treated; in fact, it’s the No. 1 cause for heart attack and
stroke while sleeping.
Bottom line: Allergies, although usually a quality of life issue that makes
us feel lousy, can also be very serious. People have anaphylactic reactions to
both environmental and food allergies, and you can end up with a really bad
asthma attack and possibly die. It’s much more than a stuffy nose, and if the
symptoms are not improving with simple measures, you should see a
board-certified sinus and allergy specialist.
Q: What’s new in allergy treatment that excites you?
A: Eastern and Western medicine are joining forces. So now,
irrigation with neti pots and hydrating irrigating units (devices that deliver
pulses of drug-free irrigation solution) and squeeze bottles are becoming more
mainstream. This is really important because all these wash out the allergens
that get in your nose. Also exciting are new intranasal antihistamines, such as
Astelin, that work unbelievably well. They can be used in addition to oral
antihistamines as well as nasal irrigation and nasal steroid sprays. Also, the
newer-generation antihistamines have nondrowsy formulations and are therefore
better for those who need them at school and at work. The older versions tend
to make most people sleepy.