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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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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.

Another reason is that “super infections” are on the rise because people take antibiotics when they don’t need them or don’t finish all their prescribed antibiotics. The result is more resistant organisms that cause worse sinus infections -- you have these super organisms, as they call them.

We also have an increase in pollution, with so many more cars on the road and so many more factories. Pollution doesn’t cause allergies, but it does cause inflammation and swelling in the nose and sinuses, and worsens allergy symptoms. Common irritants include cigarette smoke and burning coal in addition to car and factory exhaust.

Q: Some research suggests that early exposure to infections and germs may help protect against allergies and asthma. Do you agree with this so-called hygiene theory?

A: I do think there might be some merit to it, yes. So exposing young children to potential allergen sources that may bother them, such as dogs, flowers, grasses, and so on, may help build up their immunity -- both against infections and for allergies. As you build immunity to different things, it also helps fight things you haven’t been exposed to. The best scenario? Probably having a balanced exposure to everything is the best way to go. Not too much exposure but certainly not a sterile environment.

Q: The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates that some 40% of all American children suffer from allergic rhinitis. What are some of the special concerns about children with allergies?

A: Certainly children are most affected by seasonal allergies, so if your kid has allergies, be sure to take care of it early on. Kids can suffer from stuffy noses, postnasal drip, coughs, hoarseness, headaches, sore throats, and clogged ears and ear infections. Often these are written off as normal, but they are not and need to be cared for before the situation worsens. Should the obstruction get really bad, children can suffer from breathing problems and sleep apnea; both can cause significant fatigue and lead to other conditions if left untreated, such as heart disease.

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