As a kid, whenever spring rolled around, my eyes would turn cherry red and my nose would run like a spigot. My parents sent me to an allergist, who attributed my troubles to hay fever brought on by pollens.
In one of the many cruel ironies of childhood, I soon found myself facing a cure that, at least to my young eyes, seemed worse than the disease. Yes, I’m talking about allergy shots.
Following a decade of weekly injections, my allergies pretty much disappeared. But in recent years — and in recent weeks — I’ve noticed that spring once again comes with more than April showers. I’d figured either I’d outgrown my allergies, or that the shots had cured me. But, alas, they’re back. What gives?
Dr. Prescott prescribes
Allergies happen when your immune system confuses innocuous things like plant pollens or pet dander with true bad guys like viruses or bacteria. So, as the immunologists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation can tell you in much greater detail, your body unleashes an attack against these allergens. This sets in motion a chain reaction that ultimately releases histamines, substances made by your own body that can cause inflammation in the nose and throat, watering eyes, and lots and lots of mucous.
A recent study found that 45 percent of Americans older than age 6 have allergies, with inhaled substances such as ragweed, dust mites and grass being the most common culprits. Unfortunately for you, research hasn’t shown much evidence that people outgrow allergies to inhaled substances (although children often lose their allergies to foods as they age). In fact, it’s been shown that people can actually develop new allergies as they age.
Physicians have used shots to treat allergies for a century. Injections introduce a small amount of allergens to a person’s body in hope that persistent, low-level exposure to these compounds will eventually reprogram the immune system so that it no longer treats them as baddies. The approach has shown positive results, with one study finding that children who underwent a regimen of regular shots were four times less likely to develop asthma, which is otherwise common for those who suffer from allergies as children.
Just this month, the Food and Drug Administration approved two new pills to treat grass allergies. Sufferers will take these daily sublingual drugs — so named because they dissolve under the tongue — and the idea is that over time they will diminish the severity of allergy attacks.
These new drugs might provide you with some relief going forward. But you’ll likely have to wait till next year to see any results, as allergy sufferers are recommended to begin daily dosage at least three months before the season begins.
Until then, your best defenses are over-the-counter remedies like antihistamines, decongestants and nasals rinses. Stay inside, away from blowing dust and pollen, as much as possible. And when you do go outside, wash all those allergens away with a shower as soon as you’re back inside.
Prescott, a physician and medical researcher, is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Cohen is a marathoner and OMRF’s senior vice president and general counsel.