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Primary Care: Springtime in D.C. Brings
Cherry Blossoms - and Allergies

HealthReach, Spring/Summer 2012 | page 4

People with allergies have a tough time in metropolitan Washington, D.C. The flowers and flowering trees that make the nation’s capital so beautiful also makes us a high pollen area. This year, warmer weather came early, which signaled springtime to trees. Pollen counts hit high levels in mid- February and are still high. Allergist Sally Joo Bailey, MD and internist John Charalambopoulos, MD, MSc discuss seasonal allergies, as well as treatments and preventive tips to keep allergies in check.

How do you know if you have allergies or a common cold?

Sometimes there’s an overlap between cold and allergy symptoms with sneezing and congestion, but a cold also can include a fever, body aches and diarrhea. We will ask patients about their medical history to determine what is causing their symptoms.

Are allergies hereditary?

Allergies have a genetic component. If parents have allergies, chances are good that their kids have them as well.

What types of allergies are more common in the spring?

Spring is tree pollen season. Oak, which comes out in April, is the most common allergy; it’s the green/yellow powder that you see coating everything.

When is it time to see an allergist?

Your primary care physician (PCP) can handle simple asthma and allergies. If you can’t achieve good control of your allergies, or the symptoms are too extreme, then you should see an allergist for further evaluation, including allergy skin testing.

Are there different tests to determine seasonal allergies versus allergies to foods or pets?

Yes. For environmental allergies, such as trees, molds and animals, we conduct allergy skin tests. This testing is not painful and feels like a prickly hair brush. For foods, your doctor can administer a blood test to detect the presence of food-specific IGE antibodies, known as the ImmunoCap RAST test. This should be then followed up with an allergy consult and possible allergy skin testing with the allergist. For example, if a high level of wheat IGE antibodies is present, then you are more likely to be allergic to wheat.

Do allergy shots help?

If medication is not working and allergens are causing asthma, then we consider allergy shots. We inject allergens with slowly increasing doses on a regular (weekly) basis over several months, once you reach the top dose then 4-5 years to achieve permanent relief. This process teaches your immune system to develop tolerance. Once we stop these shots, you should have continued protection and your body should no longer respond to the allergens. Many patients are able to discontinue their asthma medications.

How long before allergy medications take effect?

With some medications, you may feel relief right away. Antihistamines tend to work quickly; nasal steroids can take a few days to get the inflammation down. In any event, don’t take over-the-counter medications for more than 5-10 days without consulting your doctor.

Are there steps to take ahead of time to manage seasonal allergies?

Every allergy patient should have an allergy action plan from his or her doctor. This will give you the timeline for seasonal irritants and what you should do to be prepared.

SEASONAL ALLERGY TIPS

  • Pollen is higher in the morning, so do your outdoor activities later in the day.
  • Keep your car and home windows closed.
  • Wipe your face and eyes when you come back inside.
  • If you have long hair, pull it back to lessen the amount of pollen that gets in your hair.
  • Shower, wash your hair and change into clean clothes once you come home for the day.
  • Wash pillowcases every few days.
  • Use saline nose sprays to flush out the pollen you’ve breathed in. Blow your nose again. Then use your prescribed nasal spray to clean your sinuses and remove irritants.
  • Change your air conditioning and furnace filters at home frequently, preferably with filters made specifically for pollen and allergens.

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Need a primary care physician for your healthcare needs, or to get you through this allergy season?
Call Medical Associates of Arlington at 703.717.4245 or visit www.maofarlington.com.
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