Sniffling, sneezing, watery and itchy eyes - all symptoms many people will soon begin to experience as spring blooms and blossoms in metro Atlanta.
While many people long for the warmer weather, most do not look forward to the pollen that it brings. Atlantans are not the only sufferers of this springtime sprouting - as many as 40 to 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
The new Emory Sinus, Nasal and Allergy Center at Emory Crawford Long Hospital is already gearing up for a very busy allergy season, says Alpen Patel, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat - ENT), Emory University School of Medicine.
Dr. Patel is a specialist in allergy, sinus and rhinology (the branch of medicine dealing with conditions and structures of the nose).
An allergy is an increased susceptibility or hypersensitivity to a specific substance or allergen, resulting in a marked increase in reactivity to that allergy upon repeated exposures.
Allergens include pollen, mold, dust, dander from animals or other elements and/or foods that are harmless to non-allergic people, but are harmful to those who are allergic.
Nasal congestion can be one of the key symptoms of an allergy. It is a natural part of the inflammatory response to histamine (a compound released by cells of the immune system during an allergic reaction) and other allergens. If a person experiences any of these symptoms, it is probably an allergy attack. Allergies may also be a seasonal problem, which occurs only once or twice a year in the spring and late summer.
"Beginning in March, we can expect to see a variety of allergens in the air," says Dr. Patel. "Some of those early allergens, which coat everything in our region green and yellow, are tree and grass pollens."
The Emory Sinus, Nasal and Allergy Center provides skin and blood tests to identify the substances or allergens that cause sensitivities. Treatment programs include allergy shots, medications, antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids.
The center also specializes in a broad range of disorders of the nose and sinus including: allergic rhinitis (irritation and inflammation of the nose), deviated septum, chronic and acute sinusitis, rhinoplasty (nose reconstruction), nasal polyps, snoring, sleep apnea, head and neck trauma and general ear, nose and throat problems.
Ophthalmologist Offers Eye Relief During Allergy Season
ENTs and allergists are not the only ones who will see patients with pollen complaints this spring. Maria Aaron, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, Emory School of Medicine, and a physician at Emory Crawford Long Hospital, says the allergy season also impacts the eyes, causing allergic conjunctivitis - a red, inflamed eye due to allergy.
Those with contact lenses have an even tougher time during the season, as allergens can coat the lenses.
General remedies may include eye drops (prescription and/or over-the-counter, which should always be preservative-free), anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines, environmental control (removing the offending pollens from the air, the bedding, etc.) and washing hair when bathing.
Using eye drops liberally after outside activities is also highly recommended. During the day, rinsing the face with water and using a cold compress over the eyes can help.