Minimizing The Misery Of Allergies

man over Pollen on ragweed plant, on texture
It's that time again — allergy season. For allergy sufferers, it's the most miserable part of the year. Ragweed pollen and mold will soon litter the air, causing about 50 million Americans to suffer from allergic symptoms.

WBZ's Dr. Mallika Marshall of Boston gives some advice to The Early Show on how to identify and treat allergies.

Marshall says allergy symptoms can sometimes mimic a cold. It can be a miserable season of itchy runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and itchy or sore throat. Ragweed, pigweed, plantain, sheep sorrel, sagebrush, and other weeds produce enormous amounts of the pollen that plague allergy sufferers. About 20 percent of all Americans suffer from allergies.

Marshall says it is important to see a doctor to help make diagnosis if a person has a common cold or allergies. Plus, the person may need a referral to specialist for allergy testing to help figure out exactly what the person is allergic to — avoiding it in the future.

Allergies can greatly affect a person's quality of life. They can cause fatigue, problems with concentration and work performance and affect a person's sex life. They can also increase a person's risk for ear infections, sinusitis, asthma and insomnia.

Experts are concerned that people aren't taking their allergies seriously enough. In fact, last month, a telephone survey sponsored by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology showed that 94 percent of respondents reported having symptoms severe enough to interfere lives but only 50 percent considered their allergies a serious medical condition and only 64 percent had seen a doctor for their symptoms.

A big part of treatment is prevention. Again, it's helpful to know which allergens are triggering your symptoms so you can limit your exposure to those culprits. For example, if you have ragweed allergies during this time of year, you want to stay indoors as much as possible, especially between 5 and 10 am when the pollen count is the highest. And keep your car and house windows closed as much as possible.

There are also a number of drug treatments available as well including nasal steroids, antihistamines and decongestants. But you should talk to your doctor to find the best regimen for you and your particular symptoms. Nasal steroids are very effective and have few side effects. They also may be more effective that oral antihistamines. But they may take a few days to weeks to fully work. Antihistamines can be very helpful for itchy watery eyes and runny nose, though they may not relieve nasal congestions. They can cause drowsiness thought there are some less-sedating ones available by prescription only. Decongestants can be combined with other drugs to help alleviate symptoms but people with high blood pressure should avoid them.

Seasonal allergies cause symptoms to develop around the same time every year.

People who are sensitive to tree pollens typically develop symptoms during the spring when trees are blooming. People who are sensitive to grass pollens tend to suffer the most during June and July. And people with ragweed allergies are developing problems right now because weed pollens peak from late August through October. Molds are also a problem this time of year, so people with mold allergies may also be feeling the effects right now. Year-round or perennial allergies are usually due to indoor allergens such as animal dander, dust mites, cockroaches and molds.

The most common of all allergic disorders, seasonal allergic rhinitis, is the adverse physical reaction that occurs when a normally harmless substance, such as pollen, is inhaled through the nose or mouth by someone who is sensitive to that substance. People who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis can experience an allergic reaction during the spring, summer, and/or fall - when particles such as airborne pollen are abundant. These airborne particles occur at very predictable times each year in any given geographic region. An allergic reaction can be induced by common types of pollen, such as tree pollens, including elm and maple; grass pollen, including Bermuda and sweet vernal; and weed pollen, including ragweed and Russian thistle.

Allergy symptoms typically begin in early childhood, and often peak by age 20 to 40. Despite slight differences within age groups, occurrence of seasonal allergic rhinitis is comparable for males and females. The likelihood that a person will have an allergic reaction depends on a variety of factors, including the type and intensity of allergen exposure, and genetic factors. For instance, if one parent is allergic, the child has a 20 percent to 40 percent chance of having some allergic syndrome. If two parents are allergic, the child's risk of developing some allergic syndrome is 50 percent to 70 percent. Children, however, may also develop allergies even if neither parent is allergic.