Allergies seem to be a particularly vexing problem this spring. Every other commercial is about some magical antihistamine that will keep you sneeze-free while frolicking through fields of wildflowers.
You would probably have better luck in a spacesuit, although human interaction might be missed and it’s pretty hard to blow your nose in a spacesuit.
“Allergic rhinitis” is the medical term. Pollen triggers the production of antibodies in an unfortunate 25 percent of us. When these sensitized antibodies encounter pollen, this triggers mast cells to release histamine.
This chemical causes an inflammatory response: swollen, red, irritated and drippy. This occurs where the pollen-laden air comes in contact with the mucus membranes that line our respiratory system.
Mucus membranes are called that for a reason – they have mucus. Mucus membranes irritated by histamine are miserable enough to have created two entire industries: antihistamines and tissue.
Human beings pay a lot of lip service to the idea that things are getting worse. In regards to allergies, this might just be the case.
Carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere since we invented fire or lightening-created forest fires. Plants like carbon dioxide because it makes them grow hardy and robust. And what do all these frisky plants do? They release great clouds of pollen.
Besides, carbon dioxide plants like warmth and sunshine. Many records for high temperatures have been broken this last decade. The scientific community is pretty united on predicting more of the same.
This will favor some plants, which particular ones will depend on the exact conditions and the plant’s reproductive fitness. One way for a plant to win this weather windfall is releasing billions of pollen spores to be blown far and wide. So we have increased growth of plants and probably much more pollen.
We are turning the place into a giant greenhouse. Probably a good time to invest in Kleenex!
Some of the most effective antihistamines ever invented have been in the last 20 years – and most are sold over the counter. But antihistamines are only the first step in chemical warfare against pollen.
Rather than waiting for the histamine to be released and taking antihistamine, you can take medication that prevents the mast cells from ever releasing it. An elegant solution, and generally mast cell stabilizers don’t have the side effects that antihistamines do. There are several available by prescription for eye allergies as drops or inhalers for respiratory allergies.
Steroids are among the strongest medications discovered. They can help a number of illnesses, but often at a pretty high cost in general health. Steroid nose spray is particularly effective for nose, eye and throat allergies.
This approach of putting a very small amount of a steroid directly on the inflamed tissues avoids almost all of the steroid concerns. It works very well for most allergic symptoms.
And finally you can tinker with the immune apparatus itself. There is an eternal struggle between your immune system defending you from very real dangers, and not overreacting to every innocent pollen grain. Allergy shots, otherwise known as desensitization treatment, can often reset the immune system to a more normal response.
So while spring is one of the truly magical times to appreciate Mother Nature, those with allergic rhinitis can get some treatment and join the fun.
Take care, and gesundheit.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.