Welcome to Spring, the Start of the Allergy Season

These are five things you need to know about it

By Eva Briggs

AllergyWelcome to spring, which means that first tree pollen and then grass pollen seasons are ramping up.

So, it’s a good time to answer a few questions about allergies.

1. Is it true that if you take an antihistamine for a long time to treat nasal allergies (allergic rhinitis), it will stop working and you will need to switch to a different one? The answer is no. If an antihistamine seems to lose its potency as the season progresses, it could be the pollen count has increased. You may need a stronger antihistamine. Available antihistamines, from most to least potent, are diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), desloratadine (Clarinex), and least potent is loratadine (Claritin). While diphenhydramine has the strongest effect, it causes the most drowsiness and wears off the fastest. Or you may need additional medicines. Nasal steroid sprays are the most effective treatment.

2. Are some breeds of dog really hypoallergenic? No, because it’s not the fur (or hair, more on that later) that triggers allergies. Proteins found in saliva, flakes of skin (dander) and urine trigger allergies. Some people insist that their dogs have hair not fur, but they’re made of the same protein, keratin. Hair is simply a form of fur that spends a longer time in the growth phase producing a longer growth cycle and lower shedding. A 2012 study compared the level of Can-1 protein, a major dog allergen, between six hypoallergenic dog breeds and 47 non-hypoallergenic dog breeds. The levels of allergens on the floor and in the air were no different. Non-shedding breeds have their pluses, but they still emit just as many allergens.

3. Should highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts, be avoided in children before age 12 months? That’s not necessary in most cases. The best practice is breast milk or formula for children 4 to 6 months. Then introduce food that are not highly allergenic. And when those are tolerated, it’s OK to try allergenic foods such as peanut. Within reason, of course, such as a bit of peanut butter or peanut flour mixed with banana. Not whole peanuts, which are a choking hazard or straight peanut butter. High risk infants — those with severe eczema or egg allergy — should be tested first for peanut allergy. It turns out that children introduced to peanuts early were less likely to develop peanut allergies.

4. Can children younger than 2 be tested for allergies? Yes. An allergist can administer a skin prick test to a child of any age. But to develop an allergy requires previous exposure.

5. If I am allergic to pollen must I avoid all flowers? No, because not all flowers produce high airborne pollen counts. If fact, here are some flowers that spring pollen allergy sufferers can stop and smell: hydrangea, roses, tulips, carnations, daffodils, hyacinth, peonies, snapdragons, and irises.

Eva Briggs is a medical doctor who works at two urgent care centers in the Syracuse region.