Surviving Seasonal Allergies - Ask The Pharmacist

Apr 23, 2014

Specialist pharmacists in the Express Scripts Pulmonary Therapeutic Resource Center help asthma patients understand how allergies could affect their condition and how best to manage it.

  • Allergies
  • Asthma

By some accounts, this year is likely to be one of the worst allergy seasons in recent history. Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is a common condition that affects about 50 million people in the U.S. – roughly 30% of adults and 40% of children – who may experience symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose and itchy or watery eyes.

Just in the last year, 16.9 million adults and 6.7 million children were diagnosed with hay fever. For the 22 million Americans who also suffer from asthma, this can be a particularly difficult time of year because pollen, allergies and extremely dry, wet or windy weather can worsen their asthma.

As a specialist pharmacist in the Express Scripts Pulmonary Therapeutic Resource Center®, I help asthma patients understand how allergies can affect their condition and how best to manage it.

Why This Allergy Season Is Worse Than Ever

How bad the allergy season is depends on several factors. Recent studies have shown a gradual increase in pollen counts each year due to warmer temperatures and mild winters resulting in plants producing and releasing pollen earlier. This results in a longer spring allergy season. There also is a priming effect: Once someone who suffers from allergies is exposed to the pollen – or other allergy triggers – their immune system is “primed” to react to the allergens. Even if temperatures cool later, they still will experience symptoms and have to deal with a longer allergy season. 

The Hygiene Hypothesis also may help explain the reason for increased incidence of allergies worldwide. This theory suggests exposure to bacterial byproducts from farm animals in the few first months of life decreases or slows the onset of allergies and asthma. Since developed countries have become much more hygiene conscious over the years, less exposure to bacteria has shifted our immune system balance to be more responsive to allergens, resulting in an increase in allergies and asthma.

What Can Be Done

This doesn’t mean patients simply have to suffer through the allergy season. A few simple steps can help ease allergy symptoms and prevent them from worsening chronic asthma.

Here are a few tips I provide my patients:

  • Limit exposure to allergens by keeping windows and doors shut at home.
  • Stay inside during mid-day to afternoon hours when the pollen count is at its peak.
  • Monitor daily pollen counts to avoid certain exposure.
  • Wear a mask when doing outdoor chores such as mowing the lawn, and shower afterward.

For those whose allergies are severe enough to require medication, remember:

  • It is best to begin treatment before tree pollen is in the air and allergy symptoms develop. By starting early, the medication can stop the release of histamine and other chemicals and help lessen symptoms.
  • Stay adherent. It is important to take medication daily, as prescribed, rather than just when symptoms occur.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines can help with symptom relief and can be taken as needed with advice from a physician or a specialist pharmacist.

My team and I are here to support patients with asthma – and those without – who have questions about the “worst allergy season ever” or anything else that can help improve pulmonary health outcomes.

Author Bio

Don Smart, RPh
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