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Look Out St. Louis! Allergies are On The Way

How to Avoid the Sneezes
St. Louis and allergies are two words that seem to go hand-in-hand, especially as the fall season approaches. Although, we are just beginning to think about back-to-school shopping and trading in our swimsuits for sweaters, the pollens and molds of fall will be here before we know it.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) estimates that one in six Americans suffer from allergies. Typical symptoms of seasonal respiratory allergies include itchy eyes, watery eyes, itchy throat, sneezing episodes, nasal congestion, fullness and popping of the ears, tickly cough and even wheezing. Allergic individuals may enter this season not knowing what to do about these symptoms. "Many allergy sufferers believe they just have to suffer through the fall allergy season," said Susan Schneider, M.D., Allergy and Immunology at St. Luke's Hospital. "Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for allergic disease and there is really no need for the allergic patient to suffer."

According to the AAAAI, an allergy is actually an abnormal response to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen. When people who have allergies come in contact with these allergens, their immune system views the allergens as an invader and sets off a series of actions to combat them. The result is the release of chemical mediators, e.g. histamines that cause the drippy, itchy, sneezy, watery and burning symptoms we associate with allergies. During fall in the Midwest most of these symptoms can be blamed on two major culprits, ragweed and molds.
Ragweed grows along roadsides, vacant lots, fields and almost any sunny spot. It blooms in the Midwest from mid-August to October, with a single plant producing one billion pollen grains per season. Because it is so light and buoyant, ragweed pollen can be airborne as far as 400 miles. Humidity, heat and breezes-three characteristics of late summer in St. Louis-facilitate the spread of ragweed and other pollens after sunrise. The highest pollen counts are in the early morning hours, when pollen is usually emitted. If you are allergic to ragweed pollens, they can be difficult to avoid. Reduce your exposure, talk to your doctor and get treatment.

Fall is a high mold allergy season because molds grow from decaying vegetation during the warm and humid conditions of late summer and early fall. Additionally, mold spores that are produced are entrapped in our low-lying river valley. Also, we have had major floods over the past several years that have added to the intensity of our regional mold counts. Walking through uncut fields, working with compost, soil or mulch, raking leaves and even cutting the grass can stir up mold and increase exposure.

Some patients mistake their allergic symptoms for a prolonged "summer-cold" and hence do not seek specific treatment.

"There are numerous treatments for allergic disease depending on the severity of allergy symptoms. They include over-the-counter medications, including antihistamines and nasal cromolyn. Prescription medications include the non-sedating or low-sedating oral antihistamines, nasal steroids, nasal antihistamines and immunotherapy, or 'allergy shots'," said Schneider.

Although there may not be a way to avoid ragweed, other pollens or molds all together, there are steps that you can take to make this fall season a little more comfortable. Reduce your exposure to allergens and alleviate the symptoms with these tips from Dr. Schneider and the AAAAI:
  • Leave it Outside
    Be careful not to track leaves, dust or dirt indoors. Take a shower when you come inside to remove pollen that has collected on your hair and skin. Wash your clothes. Do not hang sheets or clothing out to dry, as pollens and molds may collect on them. Keep your windows closed to exclude the outdoor pollens and molds.
  • Watch the Time
    Stay indoors during the early morning, when pollen counts are highest. Avoid yard work and try not to spend an extended amount of time outside.
  • Talk to Your Doctor
    Talk to your doctor for advice on how to treat allergy symptoms, which can range from mild to extremely severe.
For more information about allergies, consult your physician or contact St. Luke's Physician Referral Service at 314-205-6060 or 888-205-6556.