It’s that time of year in Oklahoma when itchy, watery eyes and sneezing sneak up on us. Allergies can range from minor discomfort to much worse, depending on the individual.
“The most common allergens in Oklahoma during the spring are grasses and trees,” says board-certified allergist Dean Atkinson, M.D., of the Oklahoma Allergy and Asthma Clinic in Oklahoma City. “Grasses include fescue, Johnson, bahia, timothy, bluegrass and orchard, which will pollinate in the early spring, whereas Bermuda will pollinate in the late spring and summer.”
Atkinson recommends avoidance of the allergen as an effective measure to cut back on symptoms.
“This would include keeping windows closed during the spring and the fall or when pollen counts are high,” he says, along with “allergy-proof encasements for the mattress and pillows and, if possible, washing pets once weekly and keeping them out of the bedroom and off the bed.”
According to Atkinson, the triggers of allergies include exposure to allergens as well as a person’s genetic makeup.
“Families that have parents with allergies are more likely to develop allergic rhinitis or asthma,” he says. “You must be exposed to an allergen to develop sensitivity. Once someone is genetically predisposed, repeated exposures are required in order to develop sensitivity.”
He recommends antihistamines to be used as needed or on a daily basis to help with allergy symptoms. Immunotherapy can also help reduce or eliminate the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Differentiating Between Allergies and Illnesses
“An allergen is defined by its capability to elicit an allergic response,” says Brandon Humble, M.D., of the Allergy Clinic of Tulsa. “Put differently, it’s not something that the molecule did wrong, but rather that the immune system has learned, rightly or wrongly, to see it as a threat and respond accordingly.”
This type or allergen usually causes symptoms like runny nose, itchy watery eyes, coughing, sneezing and post nasal drip. The easiest way to tell the difference between allergies and a different type of sickness such as a cold or flu is a fever.
“Seasonal allergic rhinitis, the most common type of seasonal allergies, will never cause fever outside the setting of an infection like a sinus infection,” says Humble. “If you have a fever, there is something else going on.”
Humble agrees avoidance can work for some people, depending on the allergens with which their bodies react.
“An allergy to cats or peanuts can be more easily avoided by staying away from cats or peanuts,” he says. “But it’s much harder to stay away from grass pollen in the air.”
According to Humble, his mother recommended a highly effective remedy to him as a child: saline nasal rinses using boiled or distilled water only.
“The best first person to talk to is a primary care doctor,” he says. “They can help determine if an allergist/immunologist might be of help to a particular patient with allergies.”