April Fool's Day is typically the worst allergy day in Arizona, says Julie Wendt, MD, an allergist and independent member of the HonorHealth Medical Staff. She's board-certified in allergy and immunology, and is president of the Arizona Allergy and Asthma Society.
"We always have people asking, 'What is the green tree with the yellow leaves?'" says Dr. Wendt. "That's the palo verde tree and one of the Valley's most common allergy culprits." Here are a few of Dr. Wendt's answers to commonly asked questions regarding seasonal allergies:
Q. When we've had a lot of rain, does that mean we're in for a tough allergy season?
A: Yes, but not when you might expect. If it was a rainy spring, that season might actually be a bit better than usual. But it also means the next season could be worse. So, if it was a rainy spring, watch out for fall!
Q. It's an age-old question: How do you know if you have a cold or allergies?
A: For one thing, if you notice a pattern, or if your symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, itching, sore throat) coincide with something seasonal, then it's likely allergies. If your symptoms come and go with no pattern, then you might have a cold or flu. Also, colds may have associated aches/pains, fatigue and chest discomfort. Flu might have all of those, plus a fever.
Q. How can you treat allergies on your own?
A: If you determine it's allergies, the best course of action is to avoid contact with the allergen:
- Close your doors and windows.
- Change your clothes and take a shower when you come in from the outside.
- Use HEPA filters and change them frequently.
- Use baby wipes on your pet's fur and keep your animals off your bed.
Most people have over-the-counter remedies that work for them. Try sterile nose sprays and/or eyedrops, decongestants and antihistamines. For nasal sprays, it's really best to have someone at your allergist's office show you how to use them because there is a trick to getting them to work effectively.
Also note that some allergy medications can be sedating, and if you have high eye or blood pressure, be sure to talk with your doctor before using any decongestants.
Q. Are there any new over-the-counter options?
A: Yes, there are a number of new options that work really well. Two of my favorites are fluticasone nasal, which is a nasal spray that works "higher and deeper" and levocetirizine, the most potent antihistamine on the market. You get all of the potency with fewer side effects.
Q. You've tried everything you can think of over-the-counter. What should you do now?
A: The best thing would be to visit a board-certified allergist. These physicians hold double certifications in either internal medicine or pediatrics, as well as allergy/immunology. To maintain certification, their skills and knowledge are tested on a regular basis. To find a board-certified allergist, visit abai.org.
Q. Would allergy shots be an option?
A: If you're seeing an allergist, shots may be a more natural option, especially if you have side effects from over-the-counter medications or issues that make using them problematic (eye and/or blood pressure, sleep issues, mood and memory issues). We try to make the protocol as lifestyle-friendly as possible, tapering down to the point where you'd need a shot only one time per month.
There are ways we can fast-track to get you up to a maintenance dose more quickly. Regardless, you'll be working with your allergist for about three to five years with the hope of going into remission from your allergies. Allergy shots are about 85 to 90% effective.