Runny noses, itchy eyes, scratchy throats and agitated ears are symptoms that most Willamette Valley residents recognize as seasonal allergies. But did you know that hay fever can also cause problems that are less familiar, such as fatigue, disrupted sleep, and impaired memory, concentration and learning? It can also lead to behavioral problems, especially in children with underlying difficulties, including attention deficit disorder.
Many people are surprised to learn that patients with hay fever experience more fatigue than those with asthma. Fatigue is even comparable to the level seen in more serious diseases, such as congestive heart failure. That’s why it’s important to talk to a doctor or an allergy specialist if you notice allergy symptoms.
About 50 million Americans suffer from environmental allergies. In children and adolescents, hay fever is the single most common chronic illness. In fact, about 80 percent of people with hay fever develop symptoms before age 20.
Family history is an important risk factor for hay fever. Children with one atopic parent will develop hay fever or another atopic disorder (asthma, eczema and food allergies) about half the time. When both parents are atopic, at least 75 percent of children are similarly affected.
But genetics isn’t the only cause of allergies. Exposure to high levels of pollen is another risk factor. That’s why children growing up in the Willamette Valley are more likely to develop grass pollen allergies than those living elsewhere. So while most people look forward to the rain letting up during spring and summer, for people with seasonal allergies, it can also be a time to dread.
There are many ways to treat allergies. Avoiding pollen isn’t always easy or practical, but staying indoors, keeping doors and windows closed, running the air conditioning and showering at bedtime can help. A variety of over-the counter and prescription medications are available, including antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, leukotriene blockers and eye drops. Allergy shots are the most effective and oldest treatment for hay fever, having been in clinical use for nearly 100 years. Injections are a type of desensitization where patients are gradually given increasing the amount of pollen extract to induce tolerance. Due to risk of reactions, allergy shots need to be administered in a doctor’s office, and require a significant time commitment.
For the best spring season, talk to your doctor about what allergy treatment is right for you and your family.
Roland Solensky, M.D., specializes in allergy & immunology, and sees patients at The Corvallis Clinic and The Corvallis Clinic at Waverly Drive/Albany (formerly Albany Family & Specialty Medicine). He is certified by the American Board of Allergy/Immunology, and the American Board of Pediatrics.
Need an appointment? Call 541-754-1260 in Corvallis or 541-967-8221 in Albany.
This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of MOM Magazine.