Talk to Your Doctor About Allergy Season Now

It’s far from allergy season - in many places there’s still snow on the ground - but now is a good time to think about preventing spring allergies, says Dr. Justin Puckett from Complete Family Medicine.

Puckett says that we should talk about preventative measures for allergies in the same way we treat other health concerns, particularly because there are proven ways to prevent seasonal allergies.

“In the late winter to early spring we see tree pollen,” sats Puckett. “Then in May or so, the general grass allergens really kick in. Toward the fall, we mostly see Ragweed. We have ways to train the body not to flip out when a pollen is seen.”

Puckett says this process is called sensitization, and it can be achieved through allergy shots or some pill forms. If you have allergy symptoms for more than three months of the year and they are severe and not controlled by over-the-counter medications, then you should consider allergy shots, he says.

At first, you’ll visit a doctor once or twice a week to get a shot in your upper arm. It will contain a tiny amount of the thing you’re allergic to - for example, pollen, pet dander or mold - and the dose will go up gradually until you achieve what’s called a maintenance dose. After that, you’ll usually get a shot every 2-4 weeks for 4-5 months. Your doctor will gradually increase the time between shots until you’re getting them about once a month for 3-5 years. During that time, your allergy symptoms should improve or even disappear completely. If they don’t improve, you should talk to your doctor about an alternative treatment.

“Usually, you’ll stay at the doctor’s office for about 30 minutes after receiving an allergy shot to make sure you don't develop side effects like itchy eyes, shortness of breath, runny nose, or tight throat,” says Puckett. If you get these symptoms after you leave, go back to your doctor's office or to the nearest emergency room. “Redness, swelling, or irritation right around the site of the injection is normal. These symptoms should go away in 4 to 8 hours.”

The FDA has also approved three under-the-tongue prescription tablets - Grastek, Ragwitek, and Oralair - to treat hay fever. They work in the same way as shots to boost a patient’s tolerance of allergy triggers. A daily pill is placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve and be absorbed. These medications can be taken up to 12 weeks before allergy season and during allergy season, or may even be taken year-round for severe allergies.

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