Springtime, and the living is easy — unless you suffer from allergies.
The good news is there are many ways to treat allergies, and new ones are being developed. Dr. Michael Manning, an allergist with offices in Scottsdale and Phoenix, recommends about 10 different pills, six or seven nasal sprays and the option of immunotherapy shots. There’s also an asthma medicine, Singulair, that recently became available for allergies.
The bad news? The number of people with allergies is on the rise. Dr. Edward Chu, an allergist with practices in Mesa, Phoenix and Sun City, said between onefourth and one-third of Americans have allergies, and studies suggest more and more people in industrialized nations are suffering from allergies.
"In Third World countries," Chu said, "allergies are much less common."
There’s no solid evidence as to why this is, but Chu said one theory is that we’re just too clean.
"Because we live in such a clean environment, it appears the immune system is skewed to having allergies," he said.
He added that studies show that the youngest child in a large family is far less likely to have allergies than an only child, and that living in a household with multiple pets reduces the risk of allergies and asthma. He believes this is because homes with children and pets tend to be not as pristine.
Chu added the rise in antibacterial cleaning products and the overuse of antibiotics also contributes to the increase in allergies.
Of course, living in unsanitary conditions can spread diseases that are far worse than allergies, but Chu believes the key is to find a happy medium.
"I think we’ve gone a little too far on the clean side," he said.
1. If you have allergies elsewhere and move to Arizona, they will go away.
2. Everyone who moves to Arizona will get allergies after two or three years.
3. You can have allergies year-round in the Valley.
4. Pollution is a major cause of allergies in the Valley.
5. Taking bee pollen or eating locally grown honey or produce will ease allergies.
6. You should not use over-the-counter nasal sprays such as Afrin to treat allergies because you can get hooked on them.
7. Allergy pills and sprays only treat symptoms, while shots can cure allergies.
8. Scottsdale and Phoenix prohibit sales of olive trees because of the allergens they produce.
9. Using HEPA air filters will help ease allergies.
10. You can outgrow or build tolerance to allergens.
Allergy quiz answers
1: False. If you have allergies to certain plants and move to a new climate where those plants don’t exist, your allergies may seem to go away, but it might be temporary until your body develops new allergies. "It takes the body a while to figure out if it wants to be allergic to something or not," said Dr. Michael Manning. This "honeymoon period" may last a year or two, or it could take several years.
2: False. You might develop allergies if you move here, but it’s not a given. A lot of it depends on genetics, Manning said. Also, the older you get, the less likely you are to develop allergies if you’ve never had them before.
3: True. Springtime tends to be worse, Manning said, because pollen from elm, juniper and cedar trees blow down to the Valley from the Mogollon Rim, and plants such as mulberry trees, olive trees and Bermuda grass are in full force. But allergy season is year-round here because people plant non-native species. Their pollens don’t become dormant because it doesn’t freeze here as it does elsewhere, so there are pollens in the air in every season.
4: False. Pollution, as well as perfume and smoke, are irritants, not allergens. Irritants can produce the same symptoms as allergens, but an allergen actually provokes an immune system response that releases antibodies in the system. Basically, an allergy attack means your immune system is going into overdrive. Allergens can be seasonal, like pollen, or perennial, like mold spores, animal dander and cockroach proteins.
5: False. "Allergens that bother us are the pollens that become airborne, not the pollen that bees carry around," Manning said. However, he said that while there’s no medical or scientific evidence to support the bee pollen treatment, he’s heard anecdotally that it works. Others say garlic and parsley pills work. And if it helps you and isn’t costing you a fortune, then it’s OK to continue. But he said to use caution, because supplements such as bee pollen are unregulated by the government, and it’s unclear exactly what you’re getting when you buy them.
6: True. Over-the-counter nasal sprays are meant to ease temporary discomfort, but don’t continue using them for more than a week. "Use it if you’re really stuffed up from a cold or a temporary reaction, like if you’ve visited a house with a cat," said Dr. Edward Chu.
7: True. Pills and sprays can keep allergies under control, Manning said, but "true immunotherapy can be one way to make the body turn off its allergic mechanism."
8: True. Nurseries are allowed to sell a variety called Swan Hill, which doesn’t produce olives, but can’t sell or plant standard olive trees. If you want to sneak out to another town and buy one and plant it, Big Brother probably won’t come and rip it out, but it’s not a nice thing to do.
9: True and false. Air filters can reduce the amount of dust and animal dander in your household, so it may help if you’re allergic to those. But they do little to reduce allergies to pollen, Chu said. "The problem is, if you’re allergic to pollens, they’re mainly outdoors and that’s where you’re getting your exposure."
10: True and false. Chu says he’s heard from patients who say their allergies went away, but only in regards to pets. "I don’t think it occurs with pollens," he said. And he knows of no studies on the topic. Manning and Chu also pointed out that many people think they’ve outgrown or gotten rid of allergies, when really, the "trigger" was removed. For example, if you have allergies growing up and then move out on your own and find they’re gone, you might say you "grew out" of allergies, when in fact there may have been dust mites or mold in your childhood home.
Seeking sneezers and snifflers
The Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, is sponsoring a hay fever and seasonal allergy clinical trial starting next month. This free trial will use a homeopathic product for hay fever and allergy symptoms. If you’re between 21 and 65 years old and have seasonal hay fever symptoms, or if your symptoms worsen during allergy seasons, you may be eligible to participate. Participants will receive laboratory tests, a physical exam and other clinical tests before and after the four-week treatment period. For more information, call Dr. Lisa Hilli at (480) 858-9100, Ext. 322, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.