Temperatures are on the rise and flowers, shrubs and weeds are coming into bloom, signaling round two of allergy season in the valley.
Statistically, one out of five people is affected by seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Symptoms often include sneezing, congestion, itching, runny nose and watery eyes. Seasonal allergies are caused by our immune system overreacting to a foreign particle, and the most common foreign particle — or allergen — during the spring months in the Rocky Mountains is tree pollen. In June and July, grasses and weeds become an additional allergen source.
WAYS TO REDUCE SYMPTOMS
The best way to reduce your symptoms is to avoid allergens by staying indoors early in the morning, when the pollen count is highest, and on windy days. Shut windows/doors while inside and have a friend or family member without seasonal allergies do the gardening and lawn mowing.
If you have congestion, rinsing your nasal passages with saline water once per day has been shown to improve symptoms. You can use a Neti Pot or spray bottle from your local pharmacy to move the saline solution up one nostril and then out the other.
Also, avoid wearing contacts if your eyes are affected.
In addition to avoiding allergens and performing nasal rinses, you may need to consider herbal or traditional medication options.
There are several natural herb options that can help alleviate allergy symptoms. Butterbur is a shrub that has been shown to be equally effective as oral antihistamines for allergy symptoms in clinical trials with adults. It should be used for less than 12 weeks, as long-term safety is unknown.
Common side effects of butterbur are belching, headaches, itchy eyes, stomach upset, asthma, fatigue and drowsiness. The usual dose is 50-75 mg twice daily of a standardized extract.
When purchasing butterbur, it is important that you find a processed product that states “pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) free”. The PAs contained in the raw shrub are a chemical that can cause liver damage.
Traditional, over-the-counter (OTC) options include an oral antihistamine (take at night!) such as Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra. You can add a decongestant, such as Sudafed (if you have been able to tolerate in the past) if you feel stuffy or phenylephrine for short-term relief. OTC decongestant nasal spray (Afrin) should only be used for a few days as it can otherwise worsen your symptoms.
The first OTC anti-inflammatory nasal spray (Nasacort) was released to the market this April and is a better option to control your congestion if your symptoms persist for more than a few days.
If neither butterbur nor OTC medication options are enough to control your symptoms, see your doctor to discuss additional remedies and/or prescription medication that may help your condition.
Rachel Segerdahl is a physician assistant offering a full range of medical services with Vail Integrative Medical Group, which has new hours at the Vitality Center in Vail Village. To learn more, visit www.vailhealth.com or feel free to contact her with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 970-926-4600 to schedule an appointment.