Lots of different ways to beat the pollen

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Ah, springtime.
The sun is warm, the birds are coming back, the flowers are starting to bloom.
About those flowers: They aren’t a welcome sight for everyone.
For many people, they’re a sign of irritating days ahead.
Take Casey Haynes of Salisbury, who works at a downtown restaurant.
When those flowers start popping on the trees, she knows it’s time to stock up on her meds and tissues.
“Pollen is the number one. Pollen is what kills me,” Haynes said.
“As long as I take my allergy medicine, it usually doesn’t do too bad. But when the trees start, it gets pretty bad.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 13 million Americans a year visit their doctors for allergy-related medical care.
For many, allergies can be more than just annoying. They can be life threatening.
An average of 4,210 people die every year from serious asthma attacks, most of them under the age of 65, according to the CDC.
That’s why it’s important to know how serious your allergies are, and to have a strategy in place for preventing those symptoms from threatening your health.
Dr. Bradley Chotiner, of Chotiner Family Healthcare in Rockwell, said allergies are the body’s response to something it considers harmful.
The common symptoms of allergies — runny nose, sneezing and congestion — are a part of the body’s response system.
If the body’s immune response gets out of control, that person can’t function normally.
“A lot of people miss work, and they miss time with their families, because of allergies,” Chotiner said.
The good news, he said, is that many effective antihistamine drugs, such as Claritin, are now available without a prescription.
Then there are corticosteroids, including drugs like Flonase, a nasal spray that helps control the body’s reaction to pollen and other irritants.
He said that those two kinds of drugs can help control most symptoms. In the worst case scenario, a person may have to go to an allergist for tests to determine what exactly is causing the worst reaction.
Some people have to take a course of injections to build up their resistance, Chotiner said.
But not everyone thinks medicines are the best way to keep allergies at bay.
Steve Moreno, owner of Simply Good Natural Foods in Salisbury, said many people want an alternative to prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines.
Moreno said he knows how serious these problems can be.
“I’m not a doctor, but most people agree that, especially if a person is asthmatic, they are going to be more susceptible to seasonal allergies,” Moreno said.
The staff at Simply Good does not diagnose or prescribe medicines, but they offer a variety of herbal and homeopathic remedies.
Moreno said that herbs like nettle, lobelia and chamomile can help soothe allergy symptoms when taken as extracts or tea.
He also recommends natural raw honey from local beekeepers, which is thought to help control allergies because it contains small doses of pollen.
Then there’s the neti pot, a small, teapot-shaped jug used to pour warm saline into the nasal cavity.
Regular users swear it helps reduce discomfort by clearing out their sinuses.
“It’s a remedy rather than a preventative,” Moreno said. He sells neti pots and packets of sterile saline mix at his shop.
Beyond that, Moreno said, he tries to be sure people are living a healthy lifestyle.
“We make sure that they’re digesting properly, because some foods can weaken the immune system,” he said.
He also advises that people avoid drinking too much caffeine, and try to manage their stress levels.
“Stress depletes the immune system, and all that does is cause extra work for the body,” Moreno said. “The immune system gets worn out. It overreacts.”
But these products are meant to provide relief from the symptoms of mild to moderate allergies.
“If people are really suffering, they ought to check with their doctor,” Moreno said.
Doctors are likely to be skeptical about the effectiveness of these natural remedies.
Chotiner said he doubts that the natural remedies Moreno named would give much relief.
He also said that many are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat diseases or their symptoms.
“There are no legitimate studies showing those to be better,” he said.
As for the raw honey: “If you’re eating it, your natural protection is the acid in your stomach,” Chotiner said.
In other words, the pollen that’s supposed to help fight off allergies probably won’t even make it into the system.
And though some natural remedies do have effective ingredients used in other pharmaceuticals, Chotiner said that the natural forms may not provide a reliable dose.
But even with pharmaceutical products, people may find that a remedy that works for a friend or relative won’t work well for them.
Finding allergy relief can be a matter of body chemistry or genetics.
And even a medicine that works might not be a lifelong solution.
Chotiner said that -the intensive allergy shots will wear off after a number of years.
Casey Haynes said she relies on medicine to keep her allergies under control.
“Honestly, I’ve never tried any of the natural stuff,” Haynes said.
“The doctor had me take Claritin years ago when I was a lot younger. It’s just something that I kind of stuck with.”
But over time, the Claritin stopped working as well at controlling her symptoms.
She now takes Zyrtec for her allergies.
Chotiner said that’s typical. If one of the body’s response paths for allergies is blocked by medication, over time a resistance will develop.
Meanwhile, Haynes said her the biggest worry is how this allergy season will affect her 16-month-old son, Ethyn.
He suffers a lot when the pollen is heavy. “His eyes swell really big. He gets real puffy in his face, around his eyes,” Haynes said.
But because he’s so young, there’s really nothing to do except try to keep him away from pollen on the worst days of the year.
“I typically have to change his clothes when he comes inside, and I have to run my humidifier nonstop,” Haynes said.
Babies and young children should not be given any allergy remedies — pharmaceutical or natural — without consulting a pediatrician first.
As the days of spring get longer, and those April showers start showing up, the pollen will die down.
But the other allergens of summer — dust, grass thatch, ozone – will still pose a risk, and people will still need relief.
It’s all a matter of what works best to keep the sneezes and sniffles at bay.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.