Allergy Symptoms Shouldn't Be Ignored
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
"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
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.
"It's scary," he tells WebMD. "The magnitude of the effect was
pretty significant. I think the problem is, not all medications are available
OTC, so they're really limiting themselves. But if they visit a doctor, they
can get a treatment with less side effects."
Children's hay-fever allergies are often underdiagnosed and undertreated,
Houston pediatrician Stuart Abramson, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "Some people
just think the kids are getting colds all the time, or that kids should have
snotty noses all the time, that it's just part of being a child. Children who
have allergic rhinitis that's not controlled can have problems with sleeping
because their nose is obstructed, there's snoring, and if they don't sleep
well, then they may not perform well in school. There also may be excessive
mouth breathing." Abramson is assistant professor of pediatrics,
microbiology and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine.