Allergists Dispel Myths to Fight Spring Allergy Misery

Newswise — Millions of Americans sneeze and wheeze March through June when they use misinformation to manage their spring allergies. To separate fact from fiction and help allergy sufferers feel good all season long, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and its allergist members, doctors who are experts at diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma, offer the following myth-busting advice:

Myth: Over-the-counter (OTC, or nonprescription) oral antihistamines are just as effective as prescription medicines in controlling your stuffy nose.

Fact: OTC antihistamines can help control some allergy symptoms but they have little effect on relieving a stuffy nose or the inflammation that often occurs with allergies. They also can make you drowsy. If your OTC medicine is not helping your stuffy nose or is causing side effects, your best bet is to see an allergist. “We can prescribe more effective anti-inflammatory medications,” said allergist Dr. Myron Zitt, past president of ACAAI. “But more importantly than that, also we can find the source of your suffering rather than just treating the symptoms.”

Myth: OTC decongestant nasal sprays are addictive.

Fact: OTC decongestant nasal sprays are not technically addictive. However, if you overuse them, it may seem as though they are because you may need to use more and more to get relief from the congestion. To combat this, don’t use an OTC decongestant nasal spray more than three days in a row, and talk to your allergist about prescription nasal sprays containing steroids.

Myth:Eating local honey will combat spring allergies.

Fact:Local honey is made from the pollen of local flowers, so it might seem logical that eating it would increase your allergy tolerance. However, the pollens that cause spring allergies are produced by trees, grasses and weeds, not the showy flowers that bees buzz around. In fact, eating honey can be risky for some people, who could have an allergic reaction. Not all honey is created equal. The less processed the honey, the more likely it will contain allergens, and therefore the more likely it could cause an allergic reaction.

Myth:Pollen allergy won’t lead to food allergy.

Fact:Actually, about one third of people with pollen allergies also may react to certain foods. The reaction – called oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food allergy – is usually mild, including an itchy, tingling mouth, throat or lips. It has to do with similar proteins in the pollens. If tree pollen is your allergen, you might have a reaction to fruit such as apples, cherries or plums, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts. If you are allergic to ragweed, you might be sensitive to melons, bananas, chamomile tea or Echinacea. The reaction usually only lasts a few minutes and is rarely serious, but some people may get an upset stomach or have a more severe life threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Peeling or cooking the foods may eliminate some of the allergens, but not all. If you experience this type of reaction, consider seeing an allergist to determine the source of your allergies and help you find relief.

Myth:Allergy shots require too much time and are more expensive than taking medicine to relieve symptoms.

Fact:Depending on how bothersome your allergies are, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may actually save you money and improve your quality of life. In fact, a recent study showed that immunotherapy reduced total health care costs in children with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) by one-third, and prescription costs by 16 percent. The shots are similar to a vaccine, exposing you to the allergen (a tiny bit at a time) to help your body build tolerance. As your tolerance increases, your allergy symptoms will be significantly lessened and may even go away, saving sick days and money spent at the drugstore.

Myth:A blood test is the best test to diagnose allergies.

Fact:Actually skin tests are more sensitive than blood tests. In skin testing, the skin on the inside of the arms or the back is pricked with a tiny bit of an allergen. If you’re allergic, the site will become red and swollen. Skin testing is very safe when performed by an allergist, even in infants and young children. But no single test alone provides the entire picture. It’s important to see an allergist, who is trained in diagnosing and treating allergies.

About ACAAI The ACAAI is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research.

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