The sounds of sneezes are often heard these days, especially since our mild winter accelerated the spring allergy season, according to allergy specialist Dr. Virginia E. Feldman of Hudson Valley Ear, Nose & Throat in the Town of Wallkill.
"This year is unusual," Feldman says. "Warm weather forced plants to bloom and flower weeks ahead of schedule."
And while most of us can recite the typical allergy symptoms by heart — such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes — when symptoms include headaches, lethargy, scratchy throat, the feeling of a lump in the throat, ear popping and even decreased hearing, patients should take note. "Untreated allergies," says Feldman, "can contribute to asthma, ear infections, chronic fluid in the ears, enlarged adenoid and tonsils, and sinus infections."
Children can suffer, too, from seasonal allergies to grass, weeds, trees and dust and will experience the same generalized symptoms. Feldman says, "A long, dry allergy season like the one we are experiencing this year means that the various allergens remain in the air week after week, rather than getting washed away."
But children's symptoms can differ from what adults experience, she notes. "Children will often get ear infections or chronic serous otitis media, which is fluid in the ears, that remains over time due to allergies," she says.
Parents should observe their allergy sufferer-child, Feldman says, and if breathing problems persist and symptoms don't improve, see your doctor, preferably an ENT physician.
Over-the-counter medications may bring some relief, but when symptoms persist or if breathing continues to be difficult, an ENT physician may suggest allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy.
"The shots shift the immune system away from the allergic pathways in the body," Feldman says. "This shift occurs because your body no longer sees that allergen as foreign. By being on allergy shots, one can often decrease their medications. But sometimes one needs to be on both the shots and medication to have their symptoms resolve."
Many ENTs, including Feldman, are taking a holistic approach and using various tests and procedures that are highly effective to diagnose and treat patients. The IDT, or intradermal dilution testing, is a skin test that can help pinpoint the causes of allergies and determine how severe they are. The results of this test aid allergists in determining what treatment is best, and what monthly dosage to prescribe.
The RAST, or radioallergosorbent test, is a blood test preferred for young children, since it involves one pin prick rather than the skin test that can involve multiple sticks with a needle.
It's hard to say how long the 2012 allergy season will last, Feldman says, so allergy sufferers may want to visit a specialist for a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment rather than keep sneezing all summer long.
By MJ Hanley-Goff