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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

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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.

Q: What about air purifiers? There’s been some controversy about whether they really help people with allergies. What’s your take?

A: I think air purifiers are great. But you have to understand that if you have an air purifier in the bedroom, it’s only going to clean the air around a perimeter of a few feet, and you still have to deal with the air when you leave your house, which is polluted. However, for bedrooms and work areas, patients find them very effective. Don’t forget that it is important to regularly change the filters.

Q: The rates of both allergies and asthma have climbed in recent decades. Does current research tell us why?

A: All upper and lower respiratory tract diseases are increasing. One reason is that global warming is causing allergens to peak, so pollen counts are higher each year as a result. People who are sensitive to pollen will have worse allergies.

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