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Spring Allergies: A Q&A with Our Top Expert

How to handle the runny nose, itchy eyes, and sinus pain of spring allergies
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

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 Hospital.

Q: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.

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