Do you suffer from allergies? If you live in the Richmond area, you’re certainly not alone! The Natural Resources Defense Council recently named Richmond the “sneeziest and wheeziest” city in the United States, based on its combination of ragweed pollen and ozone smog. Also named in the top 5 were Memphis, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Chattanooga. The report highlights an observation that global warming and carbon pollution increase ragweed and tree pollen production as well as ozone.
This spells double trouble for our patients with asthma, according to Dr. Michael Armstrong of Richmond ENT. “Children and adults who are sensitized to pollen or mold in the air are especially vulnerable to asthma attacks when they are exposed to air pollution. This is particularly serious for our children in the inner city, who are exposed to the highest concentrations of ozone smog and may have limited resources for health care.”
But why do allergies occur? Armstrong explains that people are not born with allergies, but susceptible individuals develop them after repeated exposure. The immune system is designed to protect our bodies from infections such as influenza, chickenpox, and measles. After a natural exposure or vaccination, the body produces antibodies to eliminate the virus or bacteria and prevent future illness.
“Allergic patients develop unnecessary antibodies against harmless particles in the air we breathe or food we eat,” explains Dr. Armstrong. “With repeated exposure, the allergic patient produces inflammation when exposed to pollen, dust, or pet dander. This inflammation causes symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal and sinus congestion, sneezing, scratchy throat, hives and even shortness of breath. These symptoms are most commonly noticed during the spring tree pollen season and the fall ragweed season.”
Excellent allergy medicines are now available without a prescription, including nonsedating antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays. “Decongestants should be avoided” warns Dr. Armstrong, “as these do not fix the underlying allergic inflammation and they often cause a rebound of symptoms that needs to addiction.”
Anyone suffering from uncontrolled allergies or asthma should make an appointment to see a specialist. During the appointment, a physician will take a comprehensive health history, including your family’s health history and information about your work, hobbies and living environment. A careful history can often suggest the types of allergy exposures that might be causing symptoms. Your doctor will examine your skin, eyes, ears, nose, throat and lungs and may suggest further allergy testing, if appropriate.
If you’ve been suffering from allergies, don’t delay in making an appointment with a specialist. Relief is just around the corner!