Your Health

Ah-choo! Tips for dealing with allergies

House Call

If you've been sniffling, sneezing and wheezing more than usual in recent weeks, you can blame it on El Niño. Now that the heavy rains have finally stopped, allergy sufferers have discovered their problems are just beginning.

The heavy rains this year have caused grasses and weeds to grow more extensively, resulting in high pollen counts. Our lovely foothills, in shades of green and brown, are wreaking havoc with the approximately 20 percent of the population who suffers from seasonal allergies. Wild grasses and weeds in the hills are large pollen producers, and they're the cause of the most intense allergic reactions in the Bay Area.

While allergies are flaring up more than usual this time of year, allergy season is almost year-round in California, in every month but November. Tree-pollen season lasts predominately from the end of winter through spring, grass pollen is present from spring to summer, and weed pollen is abundant from summer to fall.

Three ways to treat allergies:

Avoid the cause of allergies, including dust, mold and pollen.

Take the appropriate allergy medication, prescribed by your physician.

Get immunotherapy (allergy shots) for severe problems.

I recommend your first step be allergy testing, which takes about 30 to 40 minutes. This lets you know what specific things trigger allergic reactions so you can avoid them. Testing also helps clarify when and how to take allergy medication if necessary.

Common misconceptions about allergies:

Seen one allergy drug, seen them all. Most people think all allergy medications are similar. The truth is that medications have to be personalized to the type of allergies individuals have.

Darn those big-pollen flowers. Many people blame large flowering plants for seasonal allergies, but the pollen you can see usually does not cause allergy. The pollen on those flowers dose not become wind-borne because it's too heavy.

Just a nuisance. The prevailing opinion about allergies is that they're just an annoyance without any real impact on general health. But that's not true. People with severe allergies can develop wheezing or possibly asthma; people with seasonal allergies are at risk for sinus infections; there's a decrease in energy level and overall quality of life.

Don't let allergies get you down this season. Make an appointment with your physician and learn how you can enjoy the summer months, sniffling-, sneezing- and wheezing-free.

Maguire, M.D., is an allergist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. This monthly column is provided by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and column editor Arian Dasmalchi.

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