Achooo! Fall allergy symptoms of a stuffy nose, watery eyes, itching and sneezing may have residents running to their local pharmacy for relief or begging for an early winter.
These allergy symptoms, often called "hay fever," are most commonly triggered from wind-borne pollen that is produced by weeds from late August through the first frost.
The major offender for fall allergy sufferers is ragweed. However, anyone who feels surrounded by fields of sagebrush, sorrel and Russian thistle (to name a few other pesky plants) understands that there is no short supply of offending weeds in the Yampa Valley.
When an allergic individual inhales this pollen, his or her immune system mistakenly identifies it as a foreign invader, such as a bacteria or virus. This causes a chain of inflammatory events, ultimately resulting in a runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing.
Chronic throat pain, ear fullness, cough, eczema and asthma exacerbations also are common.
How can you treat these miserable symptoms? The first step is to know what your allergy triggers are. An allergist can uncover these with specific testing and help you to understand how to minimize your exposure to these offending allergens.
The second step in controlling your allergy symptoms is to mask them with the use of medicine. The two most common groups of medicine are antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays.
Antihistamines, which come in many forms, are designed to reduce the inflammation caused by the allergen. These medications frequently decrease the amount of sneezing and itching experienced. They can be used as needed during the allergy season.
Intranasal steroid sprays, on the other hand, are best started one month before the onset of the allergy season and continued daily through the season. The steroid spray works locally in the nose to reduce congestion and post-nasal drip.
If masking measures do not help, or you simply do not like the daily hassle of taking medicines, you may be a candidate for the third method of treatment - immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy is the only option available that can reduce symptoms for the long-term. It does this by addressing the underlying cause of symptoms the inflammation caused by antigen exposure.
Treatment involves getting small but increasing doses of the antigen to "sensitize" a person's immune system to the antigen, so that less inflammation is produced with exposure. Immunotherapy, which can be used in children and adults, has been proven successful in reducing allergy symptoms.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year - a time for being outdoors, immersed in nature's most vivid and pleasant season. With the right treatment, everyone can enjoy fall.
Kristen Fahrner, M.D., of Northwest Colorado Ear, Nose, Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery in Steamboat Springs, is a board-certified otolaryngologist and member of the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy.