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Pass the Kleenex: Allergies are back and worse than ever

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 9, 2011
— On the positive side, your immune system is working.

On the negative side, your nose is running, your eyes are swollen and itchy, and you’ve spent a fortune on Kleenex and antihistamines.


Allergy season is in full bloom.


This year, sufferers are getting a higher dose of misery, thanks to a hot and humid summer that produced a bumper crop of mold, said Dr. Ronald Ragotzy, allergist and immunologist with Mercy Health System.


In addition, the ragweed peaked “high and fast.”


Then, add some lovely fall days featuring sunshine and gentle breezes.


“There’s a lot of mold and dust in the air, and the wind picks this stuff up,” said Jill Evensen, naturopathic doctor with the Naturopathic Family Clinic in Janesville. “This is the time of year when plants are making their final fight to produce seeds—it’s their last hurrah—so there’s a lot of pollen in the air, too.”


Allergy sufferers wonder, bitterly, why they’re afflicted while others can walk through a field of ragweed without batting an eye or blowing a nose.


The blame goes to their bodies’ mast cells.


When allergy-prone people come into contact with allergens, their bodies create protective antibodies that attach themselves to mast cells and urge the mast cells into action.


Mast cells release histamine.


Histamine is designed to help the body ward off disease-causing pathogens. In people with allergies, however, the mast cells overdo the production of histamine and the result is the series of allergy after-effects: puffy eyes, running nose and general misery.


The three standard ways of reducing allergy symptoms are avoidance, medication and immunotherapy, Ragotzy said.


Antihistamines work by blocking the action of the histamines.


Another common medication is nasal spray contain corticosteroids that help reduce inflammation.


Immunotherapy works by introducing tiny amounts of the allergen to the body so it learns to respond appropriately to the threat.


Ragotzy also recommended that allergy sufferers keep careful track of their illness, especially during cold and virus season.


“If you have an allergy, it’s just so much harder to deal with a virus,” Ragotzy said.


An ongoing allergy-virus mix could lead to bacterial infections such as a sinus infection. If the symptoms go on longer than usual, sufferers should make an appointment with their doctors.


In Evensen’s practice, she considers an allergy as part of a larger systemic issue. Depending on the patient, Evensen might recommend a mix of vitamin C and bioflavonoids to reduce the impact of the symptoms.


Antihistamines work to reduce symptoms, but they don’t make the underlying issue any better, she noted.


Evensen said that allergic reactions sometimes are a sign of an overworked or stressed immune system.


What’s her best advice?


“Avoidance, avoidance, avoidance,” Evensen said. “It might be a gorgeous night, but you still need to sleep with the window closed. Don’t exercise in the morning.”


Nutritionally, Evensen advises her clients to head for the basics: a vitamin rich soup with onions, other fresh vegetables, garlic and herbs.



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