This post was brought to you by Scarsdale Medical Group.
The good news is it’s spring, the bad news is it’s allergy season. We asked Scarsdale Medical Group’s allergist, Dr. Jennifer Camacho, your questions about allergies. Regardless of whether you or someone in your family suffers, Dr. Camacho’s expertise is super informative and may give you the knowledge to help someone else.
How long does the allergy season usually last?
Seasonal allergies are caused by pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. Typically in the Northeast trees bloom in April and May, while grasses pollinate from mid-May through July and weeds are found in late August through early October. With our changing climate, tree pollen is now found as early as late February. In Westchester low levels of cedar and juniper tree pollen were found in late February, and so highly sensitive allergy sufferers may have begun to feel symptoms such as nasal congestion, sore throat and watery, itchy eyes at this time. There seems to be an early start to the spring allergy season this year, as we had a very moist and mild fall and winter season that made it more favorable for trees to pollinate.
Should you start giving your kid allergy medication at the start of allergy season, even before he shows symptoms? (Does this hold the same for adults?)
Every child is different and thus I always recommend that you discuss and develop a good allergy plan with your allergist that best suits your needs. For instance, highly sensitized allergy suffers may begin taking their allergy medicine before the allergy season begins. I inform patients that it is easier to prevent a fire than to put out a fire and so by taking their allergy medicine before the season begins they are able to minimize their symptoms. Some individuals sensitive to tree pollen may need to take their allergy medicine as early as mid-February.
I also advise patients to know what pollens they are sensitive to and monitor the pollen counts in their neighborhood for further guidance. An allergist can help identify what pollens a person may be allergic to through simple in-office testing. Once you know what your specific allergies are then you can monitor the pollen count in your community. There are several apps (such as pollen.com) that can be downloaded onto your phone, which tell you the pollen count for your area.
What can be done to minimize the effects of allergies when we go outside?
I recommend that patients wear glasses and a hat to protect their eyes and nose. It is best to keep the windows of their cars closed to prevent pollen from coming into contact with them. If possible they should try to avoid exercising outdoors between 5 am and 10 am, as pollen counts are highest during this time. When they return home they should change their clothes, shower and wash their hair, as pollen will stick to their bodies and you do not want outdoor pollen in your home.
What do you recommend for the nighttime to decrease discomfort?
Patients should keep their windows closed, the air conditioner on and use a HEPA air filter in their bedroom. They should also make sure they have not worn their outdoor clothes in their bedroom. Based on your specific allergies, an allergist can give you a detailed list of additional measures that can be taken in your home to minimize your symptoms.
How do I choose an OTC medication for my child? What is the difference between Zyrtec, Claritin, Flonase, Benadryl, etc.?
Flonase is a nasal steroid that decreases inflammation in the nasal passages. It is very effective at reducing symptoms of nasal congestion, postnasal drip and watery, itchy eyes. I usually recommend using a nasal steroid along with a neti pot to help reduce allergy symptoms. Children may not tolerate a spray in their nose and so an oral medication may be more appropriate for them.
Oral antihistamines include Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec. These medications should be taken if the nasal spray is not tolerated or does not eliminate allergy symptoms. In general Benadryl is not recommended for daily control of allergy symptoms as it lasts only 4 hours and side effects such as drowsiness or hyperactivity may not be tolerated. In some cases it is preferable to use Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec, as these are long-lasting oral antihistamines that tend not to make patients as tired.
Are there more natural/organic medication routes you suggest?
Salt-water nasal irrigation is a highly effective way to eliminate allergens stuck in the nose, reducing nasal inflammation and sinus congestion. An example of this is the use of a neti pot, which should be used with distilled water. Neti pots should be kept clean and not shared with other people. Breathing in steam air for more than 10 minutes will also help soothe nasal congestion and open up clogged nasal passages temporarily. Peppermint tea can sometimes act as a natural decongestant and help allergy suffers with their symptoms.
Jennifer Camacho, MD is a board certified physician with special training and expertise in allergy and immunology, as well as internal medicine. Dr. Camacho is committed to providing comprehensive and expert care to her patients, both adults and children, who have diverse and complicated allergic and immunologic disorders
The provision of high-quality, personalized health care to Westchester County and New York’s Hudson Valley region has been the mission of the physicians of Scarsdale Medical Group for more than 50 years. Their working philosophy of compassion, confidence, and commitment has enabled them to become known and respected by patients and peers throughout the tri-state area.
Scarsdale Medical Group, 600 Mamaroneck Ave, Suite 200, Harrison; 914-723-8100