One of our favorite “Rites of Spring” in the mid-south is surely the budding and blooming of a myriad of flowers, bushes, and trees. Along with all of this pollen comes nasal congestion, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and constant sneezing for many patients who suffer from springtime allergies. The symptoms are the result of the release of a substance called histamine when the body is exposed to an allergen (something to which it is allergic). Pollen is probably the most common substance causing this allergic release of histamine, so springtime is when most people are bothered by symptoms.
Many will grab for a tissue while also grabbing for some medications (antihistamines) which block the effects of histamine in the body. They are sold over the counter under various names such as Claritin® (loratadine), Allegra® (fexofenadine), and Zyrtec®(cetirizine). These are all effective, but everyone’s response is individual so we advise that you try them all to see which one works the best for you.
For those whose symptoms are more persistent, we will often prescribe a topical nasal steroid spray. These are very effective, however, they can take several weeks for the effects to be fully noticed and thus are best started during late winter to help with the spring pollen season. Although these medications contain steroids, the active ingredients are only minimally absorbed and they are considered so safe that one brand (Nasacort®) has recently been approved for over-the-counter use.
If medications do not work well enough, we will also offer desensitization therapy (“allergy shots”). This is where a small amount of the allergen is injected or ingested under the tongue (“allergy drops”) and the body seems to build up a tolerance to the allergens. The latest advance which has been approved involves an allergy pill that contains a small amount of allergen to help the body build up resistance. This dissolved under the tongue and has proven to be effective as well.