Something in the air

People who are plagued with allergies know just exactly how miserable allergy season can be, and with spring trying to make its arrival and summer close behind, allergy season may hit like a named hurricane.

Dr. Sean Stanga, from the allergy and immunology unit at Trinity Health, said that once the outdoor temperature comes up and stays up for a few weeks, everything will start blooming and that will have a drastic effect on people’s allergies.

Allergy season is always up and down, added Dr. Michael Reder, also from the allergy and immunology unit at Trinity Health. They anticipate getting a major rush of pollen for a short duration but will be hard-hitting toward people with allergies.

An allergy or allergic reaction occurs when allergic antibodies in the immune system recognize a specific protein, called an allergen, and trigger a cascade of chemical releases that result in a variety of symptoms, Reder explained. In cases of hay fever, the symptoms typically include runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, itchy nose or post-nasal drainage. Allergies can also affect the eyes, causing the eyes to itch, burn, water, swell and even redden, Reder said. When symptoms involve the skin, it’s called eczema, and when the lungs are involved, it usually means asthma.

Hay fever, eczema and asthma are often seasonally triggered in the spring, summer and/or fall due to the increased amounts of pollens in the air, Reder said. Pollens are created by trees during spring, pollens are created by grass in the summer and in the fall created by more weeds, he continued. Mold spores are often higher during the warmer and wetter seasons, Reder said, with a big mold spore push happening in the fall with harvest. Grain bins are loaded with mold spores, he added.

An interesting and often misunderstood point about pollens, Reder pointed out, is that the culprit plants are not the ones with flowers. The pollen on flowers is too heavy to carry on the wind and must be transferred by insects, birds and other creatures. The pollens that trigger allergies are microscopic and float on the wind, he explained, and that kind of pollen comes plants without flowers, like grasses and oak trees.

“People often confuse the two because many flowering plants show their flowers with the same seasonal patterns and they are much more noticeable,” Reder said.

“It’s not just about what’s in your yard but what blows in the wind,” Reder continued. “So pollens can come from Montana and Canada.”

Year-round allergies can be due to indoor allergens, like animal danders (cats or dogs) and feathers, Reder said, and dust mites are also one of the major indoor allergens.

Reder and Stanga said they tell all of their patients that allergy treatment involves some combination of three essential steps, which include avoidance, medications and allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots). The most accepted treatments are over-the-counter antihistamine medications, Stanga said, to take care of symptoms like sneezing and itching. There are a wide range of medications that are available by prescription, Reder said, like nose sprays, eye drops and other types of pills.

However, if the side effects from the medications are too many, too expensive, don’t work, or the person just doesn’t want to take medication, there is also the option of allergy shots to help alleviate the symptoms. Allergy shots offer patients to become tolerant to what they’re allergic to, Stanga said.

Allergies are diagnosed by a board certified allergist/immunologist, by specific allergy skin testing, and the results of the tests are then used to create an individual’s specific immunotherapy (allergy shot serums), Reder explained. The serums are then given in gradually increasing doses over the course of several months until a final treatment dose is reached, he continued. At that time, the doses are given less frequently, every two to four weeks, and continued for several years, which effectively desensitizes a person to their allergies, Reder said.

Allergy shots are not painful, Reder noted. They involve tiny needles given in the fat tissue behind the arm. Allergy shots are FDA approved to treat hay fever, asthma and eczema. They can be given to any person over the age of 5, but must be given in a doctor’s office for safety reasons, Reder explained.

Stanga said allergies can come at any time in a person’s life. Young people and healthy adults will be most abundant in the allergy population, while people over age 60 will have less allergies, but there are exceptions.

There are a lot of theories for why allergies are so prevalent in North America, Stanga said. Some of the thinking is that we’re too clean of a society and aren’t exposed to dirt, he added.

“Allergies are very difficult to avoid,” Stanga remarked. “You can do preventive methods like closing a window or leaving the air conditioning on, but we help people cope with the unavoidable. Quality of life is the biggest thing that people take from here. Most people have a variety of allergies and that’s a big problem.”

Reder and Stanga are both board certified in the field of allergy, asthma and clinical immunology. They are both part of the Trinity Medical Group and their office is located in the Medical Arts building at 400 Burdick Expy. E in Minot. They both see all ages and are accepting new patients. Their current office hours run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information or appointments, call 857-7387.