Knoxville ranks first in the nation, but no one is cheering. Instead, many of us are reaching for tissue, over-the-counter antihistamines, and a neti pot.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has named Knoxville the nation's Spring Allergy Capital for the third straight year. Our area is no stranger to the rankings, having made the organization's Top 10 list several times in the last decade. The foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about asthma and allergies and to funding research to find better treatments and cures for these conditions.
What makes this region one of the worst places in the country for many people with spring allergies? The foundation bases its rankings on a number of factors, including high pollen counts, extensive use of allergy medications, and a high demand for more doctors who specialize in treating people with allergies, a spokesman for the organization explained.
"Regions with a high concentration of trees, grass and weeds and the right climatic conditions tend to have more pollen in the air, which contributes significantly to the allergy problem," according to physician Mark McClinton, a board-certified ear, nose and throat specialist on the staff of Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge. "East Tennessee and the greater Knoxville area provide near perfect conditions for exacerbation of spring allergies."
Nearly 40 million Americans have nasal allergies and more than 10 million have allergic asthma, according to the AAFA.
"Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, and produces antibodies that incorrectly identify the substance as harmful," McClinton explained. "Your airways and sinuses become inflamed, and you may have itchy eyes, nose or throat, sneezing, coughing, congestion and wheezing."
He suggests that people who seemingly suffer from spring allergies visit a doctor who specializes in treating allergies and related conditions for more definitive diagnosis and treatment. There are over-the-counter medications that may be helpful, such as nasal saline, but some of these medications can be addictive and may actually be harmful.
Hard to Escape
Some allergy sufferers try to avoid their springtime triggers by staying indoors when the pollen count is high. But pollen is hard to escape.
"You carry it into your house on your skin, hair, clothes and shoes, and it spreads to your furniture, bedding and other surfaces. The best way to deal with the problem is to combine avoidance measures with medical therapy," McClinton said.
"Keep your windows closed, avoid early morning outdoor hours, when pollen counts are often higher, consider changing your clothing when you go inside, and keep your house as clean and allergen-free as possible."
• Wash bed linens at least once weekly, using the hot water setting on your washing machine.
• Don't let your dogs and cats on your beds and minimize or eliminate their time in the bedroom.
• Vacuum your house at least once a week, using a high-quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
• Wear a face mask when you dust, mow your lawn, or do yardwork, to reduce your exposure to airborne particles.
• Place portable room air filters in your bedrooms and common areas, and replace your HVAC filter at least four times per year.
Allergy Triggers, Medical Treatment
What if you have done everything you know to do and you still have a runny nose, watery eyes, sinus pressure, and congestion? Consider seeing a specialist who routinely treats allergy problems. You may need prescription-strength medication and/or allergy skin testing, to identify your allergy triggers.
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of a variety of medications such as a non-sedating antihistamine, a topical nasal steroid, or a leukotriene modifier. Alternatively, or additionally, you may be a good candidate for immunotherapy, commonly referred to as allergy shots.
Hope on the Horizon
"A relatively new method of administering immunotherapy is called sublingual immunotherapy," McClinton said. "This is when you, or your doctor, would apply a few drops of the offending allergen(s) directly under your tongue on a daily basis. Similar to allergy shots, the allergens would build up your resistance over time. The treatment could be as effective as shots, could be more efficient, and they have a lower risk of serious side effects."
"Unfortunately the new treatment is not yet FDA approved in the U.S. Nonetheless, it is available at many centers around the country and is approved throughout Europe," McClinton remarked.
July 11, 2012