Are your allergy symptoms much worse than usual this year? If so, don't blame your nose. The pollen counts in much of the country are abnormally high, due to weather conditions that favor an onslaught of multiple allergenic culprits at once. Oak pollen is the worse offender in many parts of the southeast. Unseasonably cold weather delayed the blooming of many flowering species, so that their pollen cycles coincide with oak and other trees.
We've had heavy rain here in Austin over the last week, which gives us a temporary reprieve from the green coating on all the cars in the parking lot where I live. But we're not out of the woods yet. Grasses and weeds will continue to plague allergy sufferers well into the summer, according to reference one.
Hay fever and allergic rhinitis are the medical terms for what pollen does to many of us. There are many treatment approaches for pollen allergies:
1. Drugs. These include antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene receptor antagonists, anti-IgE antibodies, phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, anticholinergic agents, corticosteroids, and cromolyn. Many are available over the counter, and others by prescription. They come in various forms: oral, injectable, eye drops, and nasal sprays.
2. Acupuncture. Many studies in the Western medical literature report positive results.
3. Chinese herbal medicine. Licensed acupuncturists generally offer this option.
4. Other dietary supplements. Probiotics and the Astragalus herb are widely available. The references report efficacy in treating pollen allergy symptoms.
5. Allergy shots. These are the classic form of immunotherapy. Several weeks to months are required for significant improvement.
6. Sub-lingual immunotherapy. More popular in Europe, this option is gaining acceptance in the United States. One clinic offers a serum which is FDA approved for injection, with directions for using the drops orally. The treatment period is anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
7. Sinus surgery. In very severe cases, surgery is beneficial for treating complications of allergies.
8. Phototherapy. A recent medical journal article reports that a device called “allergy reliever SN-206” was effective in reducing hay fever symptoms. Further studies are recommended.
More pollen in the air this year:
Acupuncture for allergies:
Chinese herbal medicine for allergies:
Immunotherapy (allergy shots):
Ouwehand AC et al, “Specific probiotics alleviate allergic rhinitis during the birch pollen season”, World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Jul 14; 15(26): 3261-8.
Matkovic Z et al, “Efficacy and safety of Astragalus membranaceus in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis”, Phytother Res. 2010 Feb; 24(2): 175-81.
Emberlin JC et al, “Pollen challenge study of a phototherapy device for reducing the symptoms of hay fever”, Curr Med Res Opin 2009 Jul; 25(7):1635-44.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.