Dr. Dad: Combating Spring Allergies
April in Duluth has never been my favorite month. Though technically spring, April’s assorted weather offerings of snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, bone-chilling rain, and incessant frigid winds off Lake Superior have always seemed at odds with my apparently unrealistic expectation of spring flowers and green grass. And so it was, much to my surprise and delight, Jack and I found ourselves doing some yard work one late April weekend with temperatures in the upper 50s under blue skies.
While I harvested the bumper winter crop of dog poop from the back yard, Jack, age 5, helpfully threw “dirty” rocks desperately in need of a bath into the swollen creek below. After convincing him, by bribery, to stop sanitizing our rock gardens, we began to gently rake up the remaining wet leaves from the previous fall. Forty-five minutes later, after taking a photo of the leaf house he made, we deposited the leaves and grass in our composter and went inside for the payment of his bribe, milk and cookies.
Within an hour, Jack began a sneezing fit. His nose became significantly congested and runny at the same time. Suspecting he had an upper respiratory infection, I was surprised to find him almost symptom free the next morning. As spring melded into summer, his symptoms kept occurring more regularly, especially as he spent time outdoors. By August, Jack’s nasal congestion was persistent, he had impressive purple circles under his eyes, and he snored like his Papaw. Within two weeks, Jack was in to see the allergist, Dr. Monson. The diagnosis: grass, mold, pollen and ragweed allergies.
Allergic rhinitis or hay fever is incredibly common in all age groups. Symptoms include sneezing, itching, redness and watering of the eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and allergic shiners, which Jack displayed nicely. These symptoms are caused by the individual’s immune system reacting adversely to an air-borne allergen such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, ragweed, grass, etc. Symptoms can be seasonal or year round and can change over the course of one’s lifetime.
Treatment of hay fever depends on the severity and duration of the symptoms. Limiting one’s exposure to the offending allergen is the single most effective treatment, though often this is easier said than done. Antihistamines with or without decongestants are common first line treatments and usually provide rapid relief. Nasal steroid sprays are also effective. Neti pots or nasal saline irrigation have also shown significant clinical benefit for those with hay fever. Allergy injections, which are intended to desensitize the immune response, may be used for severe symptoms or for those who have failed other treatments.
Claritin and nasal saline irrigation during the summer and fall have made a big difference for Jack. Being the clever boy that he is, Jack has already found the upside of his allergies — no yard work chores. Hope he likes laundry and dishes. Til next time.