If you’re like more than 50 million Americans, you could be suffering from seasonal allergies. Common fall allergens in Missouri are ragweed pollen, weeds and molds.
“Allergies have a wide impact on our health,” said Christine Franzese, MD, allergist with University of Missouri Health Care and a professor of otolaryngology at the MU School of Medicine. “The problem is that many people don’t take allergies seriously, even though they can greatly affect an individual’s quality of life.”
In addition to the more obvious symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, a runny nose and a sore throat, people suffering from allergies often experience extreme fatigue and disrupted sleep.
“If you don’t treat your allergies, you’re likely going to feel tired and have trouble focusing,” Franzese said. “It’s not uncommon for employees and children to have impaired performance during peak allergy seasons. Illness, such as allergies, not only affects the quantity of work an individual completes, but also the quality of that work. Just because you’re physically present, it doesn’t mean you’re mentally present.”
To combat these productivity problems and improve quality of life, Franzese suggests allergy treatment. Treatment comes in three forms: avoidance, medication and immunotherapy.
Avoidance simply means avoiding the allergens that irritate you and cause symptoms.
“There are a number of things you can do to help control seasonal allergies,” Franzese said. “Pollens peak in the morning, so I recommend delaying your morning run. Molds peak in the evening, so if you’re working outside during this time, try wearing a mask.”
She also suggests replacing your home air filter every three months and removing outerwear and shoes when coming inside from outdoor activities.
If avoidance isn’t enough, the second allergy treatment option is medication. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms but should be used sparingly.
“A lot of people on antihistamines aren’t consciously aware of some of the negative side effects they have,” Franzese said. “Antihistamines can cause tiredness and confusion.”
Not all over-the-counter medications have negative side effects, though. Franzese said that nasal steroids are probably the best medication available to treat allergies.
“Nasal steroids are a great solution for controlling allergy symptoms and have not been shown to impact work performance,” she said.
Avoidance and medication can be powerful temporary fixes, but the most effective way to control your allergies is through immunotherapy.
“Immunotherapy changes the body’s immune system and enables it to tolerate allergens,” Franzese said. “Unlike antihistamines, immunotherapy doesn’t affect intellectual performance.”
At the ENT and Allergy Center of Missouri, immunotherapy is offered for people ages 3 and older. Various tests can determine one’s allergies. Based on that information, daily drops or weekly allergy shots are administered to slowly expose your body to these allergens and reduce the severity of your allergic reactions. Although treatment requires a relatively long time commitment of three to five years, Franzese said the outcomes could last for life.
“Our goal is for people to finish immunotherapy and never have to use allergy medication again,” she said.