Allergies among us
Local experts discuss how to tackle an unwelcome, often seasonal guest: allergies.
It may start with an itchy prickle in your nose or a sneeze or two. Then it can quickly progress. Ah, yes, it’s allergy season again.
The cause is pollen — from trees that pollinate in late winter and spring, to grasses in late spring and summer, and weeds in late summer and fall. Genes play an important role with allergies, but living in northeastern Oklahoma doesn’t help.
Our geographical location leads to a confluence of pollen, says Dr. J.E. Block with Integrations Health Care.
Along with a wealth of vegetation, the area has nearly constant wind, which blows pollen, mold and ragweed, sometimes for many miles.
How pollen travels can depend on the time of day. When it rains or the humidity is high, pollen won’t travel as far because it clumps together, Block says.
During allergy season, some sufferers may stay inside, but indoor allergens remain a threat. If you have a pet that goes outdoors, they can bring pollen inside.
And pollen seeds are just one source of allergies, Block says.
“There (are) many other airborne allergens like dog dander,” he says. “The most common is dust mites. Even if one has a clean house, there may be dust in the rugs, dust under the bed.”
To combat indoor allergens, Block suggests investing in a HEPA filer, which will help purify your home’s air.
To identify the allergens most bothersome to you, start by reading the pollen counts to have an idea of what’s in the air. The local newspaper lists them, or they can be found online at the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology website, www.aaaai.org.
If you find your quality of life is affected by allergies, consider visiting a doctor. Dr. Rumali Medagoda of The Allergy Clinic of Tulsa suggests this if you find your work is affected because you can’t focus — you’re constantly sneezing, blowing your nose or have a headache. Outdoor and pet lovers who have constant symptoms throughout the year also may want to seek help.
“Sometimes allergies cause inflammation, which causes the nose and ears to plug up so they can’t drain well, which leads to sinus infections and breathing problems,” Medagoda says. “In those instances, it’s better to have a doctor guide you regarding the treatment and what to do.”
To diagnose specific allergies, a doctor may do a scratch or skin test. During the test, your arm or back will be pricked with small amounts of allergens to see if there is a positive reaction. After 15-20 minutes, a doctor will read the results.
“You almost know immediately what you’re allergic to,” Medagoda says.
Other testing includes a radioallergosorben test (RAST), which uses a blood sample to identify a patient’s allergies.
Block suggests being retested once a year to evaluate improvement.
Over-the-counter allergy medicines include antihistamines and decongestants. A Neti pot, which rinses out the sinuses and removes allergens, also can help.
Some may try steroid injections, in which a short-acting steroid shuts down a person’s immune response to allergens. Too much of this, though, can cause bone thinning, weight gain and high blood pressure, Block says.
“If it takes more than once a year or more than one season a year, that’s the time to go see your doctor and do something for the allergies,” Medagoda says.
A doctor may prescribe medicine or allergy shots, known as immunotherapy. An allergy shot contains a tiny amount of the specific substance or substances that trigger your allergic reactions, according to The Mayo Clinic. The shots contain a controlled amount of the allergen, which allows your body to build an immunity to the allergen before you become exposed to it in nature.
In nature allergens are distributed through the air in various amounts. When someone who suffers from allergies encounters these allergens, their body doesn’t have time to create a defense.
Natural treatment is an option, too. Some of these options include:
Omega 3 fish oils
Quercetin (found in green tea and apples)
Though it may seem counterproductive, Block also suggests ingesting pollen from local bees.
“The bee goes to several varieties of flowers and picks out the pollen,” he says. “You take the bee pollen and your body builds up blocking antibodies to what was in the bee pollen.”
Allergies and asthma
Tulsa ranks No. 15 in the “The Most Challenging Places to Live with Asthma,” according to a 2013 report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Our city also ranks No. 15 for worst fall allergies, and unfortunately allergies can lead to troubles for individuals with asthma.
“Allergies and asthma go hand in hand because (they affect) one airway,” Medagoda says. “So, whatever causes problems in the nose — causes itching, sneezing, runny nose — has a similar effect in the lower areas, too, in the lungs.”
Individuals with asthma can experience shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
“Allergies are just one of the causes of asthma,” Block says. “Sometimes people don’t have allergies and then at age 30, they have a bad respiratory illness and forever on, they start wheezing periodically.”
Food allergies are a growing topic, and many restaurants are adding gluten-free options to their menus. Food allergies can cause hives, itching, redness and swelling, Medagoda says, and can be severe, affecting breathing and swallowing. Fortunately, individuals can be tested for these allergies, too.
The eight most common food allergies, according to Medical News Today, are:
Nuts from trees
“The good news is children outgrow most of their (food) allergies except peanuts and tree nuts,” Medagoda says.
Gluten is another offender, and airborne allergies can compound problems for individuals who are gluten intolerant, according to Block.
Found in barley, rye, oats, wheat and spelt, gluten also is known to cause skin allergies.
“I’ve had patients for decades with allergies,” Block says. “Take gluten away from them and they can breathe and a rash goes away.”
Low levels of allergens also can be found in tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
“When the pollen comes, it makes things worse,” Block says.
He says it’s important to distinguish between food allergies and food intolerance.
Usually come on suddenly.
Can be triggered by a small amount of food.
Occur every time you eat the food.
Can be life-threatening.
Usually come on gradually.
May only occur when you eat a lot of the food.
May only occur if you eat the food often.
Are not life-threatening.
Overall allergies are becoming more common, which Block attributes to the hygiene phenomenon. Hundreds of years ago, individuals were exposed to pollen and built up “blocking antibodies,” he says.
“Now, with the advent of hygiene, the baby doesn’t get all of that, and now when they’re 5 or 6 or 7 years old, they get bombarded by all these things,” Block says. “Same thing with animals. If you have animals early on with a child, there’s not a problem because you get all these things taken care of.”
Despite best efforts to prevent or reduce allergies, however, about half of children suffer from the same allergies their parents did, according to
“The biggest treatment is stay away from the offending agent,” Block says. “Even better than that is picking parents who don’t have allergies.”
by Josh Wagner
Some Tulsa-area residents are breathing easier, thanks to a Broken Arrow center that treats sufferers of asthma, allergies, sinusitis and other airway-related issues.
One of six such centers in the nation, BreatheAmerica came to Broken Arrow in 2012 and utilizes a multi-specialty approach to diagnosing and treating patients.
Through a treatment protocol developed at Vanderbilt University, BreatheAmerica houses various medical specialists in one location to save patients time and money.
BreatheAmerica’s goal is to “minimize the number of visits a patient makes (when undergoing) multiple tests on their first visit,” says Dr. Bret Haymore, medical director of BreatheAmerica.
BreatheAmerica has a lot to offer when it comes to diagnostic tools and treatment options. Patients can undergo skin and blood tests, pulmonary function tests, CT scans for sinuses, sleep studies, and non-oncology infusion services and allergy shots.
Haymore adds, “BreatheAmerica offers clinical research for eligible patients that wouldn’t otherwise be available (to them).”
BreatheAmerica is located at 4716 W. Urbana St., Suite 211, in Broken Arrow. For more information, visit www.breatheamerica.com.