An allergy is an excessive reaction by your body’s immune system to some generally harmless substance in theenvironment. The substance that causes the reaction is known as an “allergen.”
Most allergic reactions are not life threatening but are very annoying. For example, allergies to cat dander or certain pollens can make a person feel pretty miserable as their eyes tear up and itch and they become congested. Allergies to milk sugars (lactose) can cause significant cramping and diarrhea in those with more pronounced reactions. Other allergic reactions however can be much more serious, as in the case of peanut, bee venom and certain medication allergies. For some highly allergic people, exposure to even small amounts can cause swelling in the windpipe and mouth, leading to obstructions that cut off breathing. These life-threatening reactions, known as anaphylaxis, need immediate medical attention. Thankfully most common reactions are not serious and include more mild food allergies, reactions to airborne pollens and mold, and the “seasonal allergies.”
Reducing the Suffering
NOTE: individuals with known serious reactions which can result in anaphylactic reactions and individuals with moderate to severe asthma should discuss a specific plan of action with their health care practitioner.
If you or a family member is allergic to something, here are a few ways you may find relief.
- Avoid the Allergen. This is fairly straightforward. If the allergy is to an animal, a specific food, a cleaning product, etc., keep your distance. This is much harder to do when it’s to airborne pollens. But even then, you may want to reduce outdoor activity and stay inside a location with a good air filtering system. Making sure your bed linens, pillows (synthetic material is generally better than real feather/down), mattress and carpet are very clean can also help for some. An in-room dehumidifier (note the prefix ‘de‘, humidifiers tend to make things worse) may also help. For more information on how to allergy-proof your environment, click here. If you suspect you or a family member has a food allergy, speak to your personal health care practitioner or call the Department Dietitian at 213-252-3090.
- Consider Over the Counter (OTC) Remedies. This category of remedies includes those medications and other things that you can purchase without a prescription. Antihistamines (ex. Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec) may be effective at reducing an allergic response and are often the first approach used. For many, especially those with seasonal allergies, they work just fine. These medications may cause side effects, including drowsiness, blurred vision and dizziness – always monitor your reactions to any medication and talk to the pharmacist if you have questions. Other OTC meds are decongestants, medications that clear mucus. Individuals with high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, thyroid or prostate problems should discuss the use of decongestants with the pharmacist or their personal health care practitioner before taking any. Other approaches include the possible use of nasal allergy spray to reduce the allergic reaction and/or clear the sinus passage. Certain OTC eye drops may also reduce tearing and eye irritation.
- Get Medically Screened and Treated. When you just can’t avoid an allergen and OTCs aren’t doing the job, you may want to see your health care practitioner (HCP). Medical staff should closely follow those with asthma and potentially serious reactions. Your doctor or HCP may be able to prescribe stronger allergy medications than what you have access to OTC. Some individuals will require allergy testing in order to figure out what is causing a reaction and how to treat it effectively. The medical treatment of certain allergies can be by trial and error – don’t allow yourself to become frustrated, it can take time. Yet another approach may be the use of immunotherapy, in which a serious of shots are given to a patient to help their body develop a healthy immune response and not an over-reaction as has been occurring.
Spring is coming and love is in the air (or at least pollen, ragweed and mold). If you have seasonal allergies, get a jumpstart and talk to your HCP ahead of time.
Curious about the pollen count and air quality in your neighborhood? Use the link below for information on allergens in your community.
The information contained herein is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor or your personal healthcare practitioner. The LAPD and BlueLIFE disclaim any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.