A recent study ranked Chattanooga among the "Sneeziest and Wheeziest" cities in the country, stating Chattanooga is the fifth worst city in the United States for seasonal allergy and asthma sufferers. Before you pack your bags and move to a city that’s considered more allergy-friendly, Kayla Johnson, FNP-C, with CHI Memorial Convenient Care – Atrium, shares advice for preventing and treating allergy symptoms.
Let’s start with the basics. Allergens, or allergy triggers, are substances that cause allergic reactions. Some of the most common allergens are pollen, mold, animal dander, dust mites, cockroaches, and insect stings. Certain foods and medications can also be allergens for some people. If you have allergies and are exposed to an allergen, your body releases chemicals called histamines, which help defend your body against the allergen by causing an inflammatory response.
So how do you know if you’re suffering from allergies? Common allergy symptoms include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Pressure in face
- Sore, scratchy throat
- Watery, red, or swollen eyes
- Itching of eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and skin
- Dark circles under eyes (“allergic shiners”)
- Loss of smell
- Ear “fullness” and popping
- Skin rash
When you see your healthcare provider, we’ll ask questions to help figure out what is causing your symptoms. Sometimes allergy testing will be done to help determine exactly what is causing your allergies. This will help us decide how to prevent and treat your allergies.
Here are some basic strategies to help prevent and treat allergy symptoms. Note that these will vary based on your allergy triggers, and you should always consult your healthcare provider before starting any new medications.
- Avoid allergens – Wash bedding frequently. Shower before bed to wash off pollen and other allergens in your hair and on your skin. Keep windows and doors closed. Vacuum regularly and replace carpet with linoleum or wood if possible. Replace air filters in your central air system regularly. Repair leaks in your home. Remove plants from your home.
- Avoid other things that can make your symptoms worse – cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, air pollution, and wood smoke.
Treatment of Allergy Symptoms:
- Antihistamines help reduce itchiness, sneezing, and runny nose caused by allergens. These can be purchased over-the-counter. Ask your healthcare provider which would be best for you.
- Decongestants can help temporarily relieve stuffy nose caused by allergens. These can also be purchased over-the-counter and are found in many “cold and sinus” medications. Do not use nasal steroids for more than three days because you can become dependent on them. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, ask your healthcare provider before starting a decongestant because they can raise your blood pressure.
- Nasal steroid sprays decrease inflammation in the nose caused by inhaling allergens. They can help reduce nasal stuffiness. Some steroid nasal sprays can be purchased over-the-counter. Ask your healthcare provider which option would be best for you.
- Nasal washes done three times per week can help remove allergens from the nasal tissues.
- Allergy shots are an option for people who do not respond to other treatments for allergy symptoms, or if your symptoms occur year-round and it isn’t feasible to avoid your allergens. They contain a small, regulated amount of allergens and are given on a schedule so your body gets used to the allergens and stops reacting to them.
- Stay well-hydrated!
If you develop a fever, experience shortness of breath, have symptoms that last longer than 10-14 days, don’t respond to at-home treatments, or if your symptoms start interfering with your life, you should see a healthcare professional.
If you need to get in quickly for your allergy symptoms, or if your need for relief arises after-hours or on the weekend, CHI Memorial Convenient Care-Atrium is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday - Sunday. The office is located at Atrium Medical Center at 1949 Gunbarrel Road, Suite 200, Chattanooga, TN 37421.