Achoo, baby! Treating problem pollen


Spring is here! The daffodils, irises, hyacinths, and all their friends are finally starting to bloom. (Insert pastoral song– Bugs Bunny background music will do.)

I start to feel like a cock-eyed optimist when the days become longer and the landscape looks like a Monet painting. I scamper off to my Friday morning TV gig with Beth Duffy and Bill Duvall with a spring in my step– until I start to sneeze. Do seasonal allergies have to ruin everything?

Growing up in Ohio, I used to excuse myself from the classroom every spring and fall to wash out my eyes and blow my nose. My eyes were so itchy I wanted a cat to claw them out. My nose was as plugged as a Dustbuster, and my throat felt like a piece of burlap was stuck inside.

My parents were doctors, and they gave me an over-the-counter antihistamine that made me feel like Rip Van Winkle. But the antihistamine didn't completely work, so not only was I tired, but I still continued to sneeze, wheeze, and wipe my weeping eyes.

About 60 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, aka allergic rhinitis, and the incidence is on the rise, particularly in urban areas.

Charlottesville has the honor of having pollens from both the North and the South (and who said the Yankees and Confederates couldn't blend?) to make this area one of the worst regions for seasonal allergies in the US. Hip, hip, hu... achoo! Some people who move here think someone is sprinkling corn meal on their cars every spring, not realizing it's pollen.

Allergies can be more than a nuisance. For those with asthma, the post-nasal drip usually causes wheezing and can trigger a severe asthma attack. Having a bloody nose from the irritation is as much fun as having a bikini wax. Because of congestion, the person with allergic rhinitis will often mouth-breathe and snore, which disrupts sleep (and drives the significant other crazy!).

People who think they have a frequent problem with catching colds that "just won't go away" usually have allergic rhinitis. I have had to arm-wrestle quite a few people who are in denial that they have allergies.

"I'm 50 years old, and I've never sniffled a day in my life!"they say.

I ask, "Did your parents or siblings have allergies?" Between nose blowings, the sneezer might say, "Yes, but I never did. Give me antibiotics! The last doctor gave me the wrong ones– I might just as well have taken M&Ms."

Well, the antibiotics didn't work because there was no bacteria involved. Pollen, molds, dust, mite poop, and other devious microbes are responsible for the misery.

Nasal steroids are the way to go for most people because they block the inflammation in the nose to make life smell like a bowl of peaches. However, not everyone can take a nasal steroid because in certain people it can cause a deadly fungal infection.

For those, like the sneeze-less writer here, who have bad allergies, an added antihistamine is needed. There are moments we remember all our lives. For some it is Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. For others it is Susan Lucci finally winning an Emmy. For me it was the invention of non-sedating antihistamines. "Celebrate good times, c'mon!" I did a River Dance when I took Seldane (now off the market) and didn't fall asleep in my chicken soup.

Now with the invention of leukotriene inhibitors like Singulair, more people are able to avoid allergy shots to get their allergic rhinitis under control. But still for some the yellow brick road leads to allergy shots and nose surgery.

Today, the combination of Flonase and Zyrtec is like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup to me. The two together keep me smiling on TV without sneezing on Beth and Bill.