Richmond Family Practice April 19, 2016

Ahh, Central Virginia in the springtime… the days are longer, the weather is warmer (usually), the birds are singing, the flowers and trees are in bloom… and my car is green. Mind you, my car is supposed to be black. Welcome to pollen season. Runny noses and itchy eyes are as common around here as dogwoods and daffodils.

As Virginians, you know that allergy season is not limited to spring. In fact, the milder winters (this past one being an exception) and long humid summers contribute to the Richmond area’s perfect recipe for a year-round allergy problem, noted frequently as one of the nation’s worst.

Allergies, sometimes referred to as allergic rhinitis, are a very common health problem involving an inappropriate response of our immune systems to allergens, substances which can induce allergic reactions. There are both outdoor and indoor allergens. Aside from different types of pollens and molds, allergens can include animal dander and dust mites.

Allergies can negatively impact quality of life, as well as decrease productivity in our daily jobs. Allergies can also worsen other health problems like asthma. Common symptoms include nasal congestion, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Thankfully, there are many effective treatments.

Common symptoms include nasal congestion, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Thankfully, there are many effective treatments.

For mild to moderate allergies, steroid nasal sprays are the medications of choice. These sprays block the release of certain chemicals that cause inflammation in the nasal cavity. Steroid nasal sprays can begin working in as little as 30 minutes, but it usually takes several hours to several days to notice an improvement in all-around symptoms. Some of the more common side effects of these sprays include nasal irritation, like drying or stinging, and occasionally, nosebleeds. In general, nasal steroids are quite safe and they are now available over-the-counter.

For more severe allergies, antihistamines are often needed along with nasal steroids. These medications block histamine, a substance released by the body in response to allergens. Some oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, can cause drowsiness and may be best when taken at night. For daytime use, consider loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra), or cetirizine (Zyrtec). Antihistamines in the form of a nasal spray are only available by prescription and typically used to treat more severe allergy symptoms. Compared with oral antihistamines, nasal antihistamines directly target the nasal passages, but may cause a bitter taste and/or headache.

Over-the-counter decongestants may also be helpful in treating the stuffy noses that often go along with allergies. Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are common oral over-the-counter decongestants. Some asthma medications can also be used to treat allergies, but they are generally not as effective as nasal steroids or antihistamines.

If you, like many Virginians, have allergy problems, your primary care physician can help develop a treatment plan that works for you. In some instances, an evaluation by an allergist may be needed. These specialists can determine which allergens are causing your symptoms and provide appropriate therapies.

Enjoy the spring, grab some tissues, and clean that car!

For further inquiries about allergies, asthma, or other chronic respiratory symptoms, contact Thomas Veech, MD, JD, of Richmond Family Practice, at 804-358-0248.

Book An Appointment Online with Dr. Veech