Achoo. The season for sneezes, sniffles, itchy eyes and runny noses is nearing as the peak allergy season of late summer approaches.
"It's always bad," said Brainerd Medical Center allergist Dr. William Schoenwetter of the late summer season. "It's always going to be a tough season."
Even so, Schoenwetter predicted that it may be an even more difficult season due to the amount of rain. As the flowers and weeds grow with the rain, the pollen also increases, with larger amounts becoming airborne and therefore irritating allergies.
Airborne ragweed peaks somewhere between Aug. 15 and 20. Mold peaks near the beginning of September.
Sweet clover plants lined the edges of a lake in the Cuyuna Range Mineland Recreation Area last week. The late summer allergy season is nearly in full swing with many plants blooming and setting their seed pods. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
The late summer season is known for being tough. However, Schoenwetter said that in this area, the April and May tree season is, for many people, equally as severe as the late summer ragweed season because of the abundance of trees.
Schoenwetter compared allergies to having a cold for six weeks. Symptoms include a runny nose where people use 20-50 Kleenexes a day. With sneezing, Schoenwetter is fond of asking, "What's your record?" to which the reply is often 20-25 sneezes in a row.
Red, itchy eyes also are a symptom and are more prevalent with seasonal allergies.
"The seasonal tend to have irritative symptoms. They sneeze and they itch," Schoenwetter said, "where the year-round have more obstructive symptoms, congestion and drainage."
Eczema, an itchy skin rash, is also a symptom and is more common in children than in adults.
"It's plugging, running, sneezing, itching," Schoenwetter said in summary of the symptoms.
In addition to diagnosis through these symptoms, Schoenwetter also takes a history of when and where these symptoms occur to match the allergy with the exposure. Allergies also are hereditary and can skip generations. Physical examinations are the final route to diagnose allergies.
Allergies rarely start over the age of 55, and Schoenwetter called allergies "a young person's disease."
Despite the dreary allergy forecast for late summer, Schoenwetter said that there have never been better medicines to treat allergies than those available now.
The best one? "I can't tell you," Schoenwetter said. "What works for one person may not work for the next person."
Dr. William Schoenwetter, an allergist at Brainerd Medical Center, recently displayed six different intra-nasal steroids that help with allergies. He said individuals respond differently to allergy relief medications. What works for one person may not work for another. Brainerd Dispatch/Amy Fredman» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Individual responses" are a factor in finding the best medicine for each person, but Schoenwetter said that Zyrtec and Claritin (Loratidin), or forms of each, are the most common over-the-counter allergy relief medications that patients buy. "My belief is that Claritin isn't as potent as Zyrtec, but they are both good alternatives," Schoenwetter said. "Zyrtec makes some people drowsy. Claritin doesn't, so it's a tradeoff."
Schoenwetter also said that antihistamines are a treatment that help many people but are inadequate to get total relief for many. They do a modest job of helping eye symptoms, he said.
There are six different intra-nasal steroids. "They all work," Schoenwetter said. "Some people prefer one over the other based on how harsh it sprays. But in the minds of most allergists, they are all of equal potency."
One of the functions of the nose is to clean the air, Schoenwetter explained. The blanket of mucus in the nose makes over a quart of mucus every day that is unconsciously swallowed. With an allergy, though, that amount is doubled. "That's why they go through a box of Kleenex every day," Schoenwetter said. "It's because of the overproduction of mucus."
One of the complications of nasal allergy is the development of asthma.
For those who do not respond to medications or who have very long or year-round allergy seasons where they are never free from symptoms, Schoenwetter resorts to immunotherapy, or allergy injections or shots.
"It's a nice time to visit Montana," Schoenwetter said jokingly, as the late summer allergy season looms, for there is less ragweed in higher elevations.
For those susceptible, the only way to avoid allergies, Schoenwetter said, is to "sit in my office all day, sleep in air conditioning with the windows closed, work in air conditioning, drive in air conditioning and don't have any fun all summer."
AMY FREDMAN may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5866.
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