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Allergy Symptoms Shouldn't Be Ignored

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March 17, 2000 (Atlanta) --Pollen season is blooming across the U.S. This year, will more sneezing, coughing, undiagnosed allergy sufferers take their problems seriously -- and see a doctor?

Maybe, if their quality of life is at stake. "Hay fever causes sleep disturbance. People can be tired, they have headaches, they don't feel well. They take over-the-counter medications that interfere with driving, with learning," Gary S. Rachelefsky, MD, past president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, tells WebMD. "They need to be asking their doctors for nonsedating antihistamines or, if that doesn't work, go to topical nasal steroids [sprays]."

Not only that, symptoms that look like allergies might turn out to be something else.

"Only half my patients turn out to be truly allergic," Mandel Sher, MD, tells WebMD. "They may have other problems with adenoids, their septum is deviated, they have chronic sinus infection -- all these other causes for chronic stuffy nose. Only half my patients turn out to be truly allergic."

And that's in sunny Tampa Bay, where allergy season lasts at least half the year -- starting in January. Sher is an allergy/immunology specialist and clinical associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at University of South Florida College of Medicine. "You really know when you're there because people are miserable, absolutely miserable, with itchy, watery eyes, post-nasal drip, fatigue," Sher says. "I call them the canaries in the mines. We're right in the middle of it in the last two or three weeks."

Diagnosis of allergies is difficult, says Rachelefsky. "Allergic rhinitis is also associated with sinusitis, ear disease, and asthma," he tells WebMD. "With someone who has asthma, doctors should always check the allergic component. With someone who always seems to have a cold, it may be a sinus infection. But if you treat the sinus infections and don't treat the allergy, then you're chasing your tail."

In the upper Midwest, Iowa City allergist John Weiler, MD, has not yet seen crowds in his waiting room. "It's still early," he says. Weiler says he worries about those who hit the road after taking over-the-counter (OTC) allergy products without realizing their side effects. His research, published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that standard doses of the antihistamine diphenhydramine, contained in Benadryl and many similar medications, had a greater effect on driving ability than alcohol.

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