Taming environmental allergies: Here’s what works best

Allergy - Environmental allergies
Environmental allergies occur when the body misinterprets elements in the environment as threats, triggering a defensive response. Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

It might begin with a sneeze or a cough, or your eyes become red and itchy. The unmistakable culprit behind these symptoms is allergies.

Environmental allergies occur when the body misinterprets elements in the environment as threats, triggering a defensive response. Typical triggers include animal dander, insect droppings, mould spores, pollen, and dust.

Environmental allergies can manifest seasonally or persist year-round, affecting a significant portion of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four adults and one in five children experience seasonal environmental allergies or hay fever.

Regardless of the allergen responsible, there are methods to manage allergy symptoms, as advised by experts, who specialise in ear, nose, and throat medicine clinicians emphasise that allergies fundamentally impact one’s quality of life, leading to misery for some individuals.

Patients often come to the clinicians with severe congestion, suffering for years, while others are highly sensitive and seek complete symptom relief. Managing environmental allergies becomes a personal choice.

Allergy - itching
Managing environmental allergies becomes a personal choice. Photo: Flickr

For those grappling with seasonal or environmental allergies, there are steps to find relief, which are as follows:

1. Avoid your allergens: While it is challenging to entirely avoid allergens, trying to do so is a good starting point. For example, if you are allergic to dogs, try to stay away from them. Cats present a more significant challenge due to their sticky, oily dander that clings to surfaces. Reducing dust can be achieved by eliminating carpets, opting for blinds over curtains, and using leather or vinyl furniture. Using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system can help purify the air. Regularly washing linens in hot water and using dust covers on pillows and bedding can also help.

2. Take over-the-counter medicines: Over-the-counter medications are available to control allergy symptoms. Antihistamine pills or sprays can provide temporary relief within about 30 minutes, while nasal steroid sprays offer lasting relief when used consistently. Nasal steroids may take weeks or months of regular use before significant relief is experienced. Using the spray correctly and performing nasal irrigation to clear mucus, pollen, and dust before using nasal steroids is crucial.

3. Consider immunotherapy: If over-the-counter options are insufficient, allergy shots or drops may be recommended by a doctor. These immunotherapies help desensitise the immune system to the allergens causing your symptoms. Shots are typically administered in a doctor’s office, initially on a weekly basis. Some individuals may eventually self-administer the shots. Allergy drops are an alternative, absorbed under the tongue. The therapy progresses from low to full concentration, with drops taking about 12 weeks to reach the full dose. Insurance may not cover the drops.

4. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen: Untreated allergies can worsen over time, potentially leading to conditions like asthma, nasal polyps, and chronic sinusitis. It is essential to monitor your symptoms and consult a doctor if they deteriorate.

5. Surgical options: In cases where other treatments prove ineffective, some surgical procedures can alleviate nasal congestion. These procedures do not eliminate allergies but can help improve the quality of life for those seeking an alternative to allergy medicines or immunotherapy.

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Dr Paudel is an intern at the Nepal Army Institute of Health Sciences.

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