Monday Medical: Relief available for allergies

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Are you sneezing, itching, coughing and wheezing? If so, you probably blame the "cotton" from the aspen and cottonwood trees that is flying around. But it is the invisible pollen grains from grasses that are causing your allergy symptoms.

It's the peak of the allergy season in the Yampa Valley right now. If you walk the core trail along the Yampa River you will see grasses that are four feet high. On closer inspection you can see the pollen parts hanging from their flowering spikes.

The wind can carry the pollens many miles away. When they get in your nose and eyes they set off the allergic reaction with sudden release of histamine and other chemicals.

The tendency to develop allergies is inherited. There is no cure, but there is control. You don't have to suffer from your summer allergies and hope for early snow. Treatment and relief are available at your local pharmacy or doctor's office.

Some medicines such as antihistamine pills or allergy eye drops are available over the counter. So is cromolyn nasal spray, which should be used before outdoor activities. Unfortunately, antihistamines do not get rid of the nasal congestion that is often the most troublesome symptom.

Sudafed, a decongestant, can be added for relief and is often combined with antihistamines in allergy pills. Better yet is a call or visit to your doctor, especially if Benadryl makes you sleepy and Claritin does not help or Sudafed keeps you up at night.

The most helpful medicines for control of runny and stuffy nose, itching and sneezing, are prescription nasal steroid sprays such as Flonase (fluticasone), Nasonex, Rhinocort and others, which all require a prescription. For best results, these sprays should be taken daily during the pollen season.

If you suffer from itchy, watery eyes, ask your doctor for prescription eye drops. They won't cause a dependency like the over-the-counter eye drops that "take the red out."

If your chest feels tight and you experience coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, you may need an asthma inhaler. Avoid those over-the-counter adrenaline inhalers advertised on television. They are not safe, their effect is short-lived and they may leave you jittery or start your heart pounding.

Last but not least, consider allergy shots if you have recurrent bad hay fever, especially if it becomes more severe from year to year. This is the only treatment that can reduce your allergies in the future.

Spring and summer are short in the Rocky Mountains. Enjoy the beautiful summer days by getting the right kind of relief from your seasonal allergies.

Roswitha Moehring, M.D., is a board-certified allergist who has practiced in Steamboat Springs for more than 20 years.

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