Q&A with Christine Gilroy: the 411 on seasonal allergies

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Picture this: you and your family plan a camping trip in the Colorado Front Range on a sunny, summer day. The views are unparalleled, the weather is sublime, but you can barely enjoy it through your allergy fog. Instead, you’re focused on your throbbing head, itchy eyes and scratchy throat.

It’s important to be prepared to prevent and combat seasonal allergies. We caught up with Dr. Christine Gilroy, internal medicine specialist and medical director at Bright Health, to learn which allergies are prominent in Colorado this summer, and every season, as well as tips on how to combat them.

Q: What do seasonal allergies look like in Colorado?
A:** Colorado’s Front Range has three predominant allergy seasons: tree season, grass season and weed season. Tree season runs from February to June; grass season is from May to August; and weed season starts in July and ends after the first hard freeze.

During the summer, Coloradans are in the peak of grass season, which can cause itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, a runny nose and occasionally waking to a sore throat.

Q: Why do seasonal allergy symptoms vary year to year?
A:** Most Coloradans are new to the state over the last 20 years. Your allergies get worse after you’ve been in the environment for 4 to 5 years. In addition, allergies can vary season to season based on the weather. If we have a warm, wet spring, grass season will be early and intense. If we have a wet summer, weed season will be much worse. If it snows a lot in the spring, it tends to keep the tree pollen down. This summer is expected to be worse than usual due to our warm, wet spring.

Q: What is the biggest allergy misconception you see?
A:** Often people will take allergy medicine for a few days and once their symptoms subside, they’ll stop taking it. It takes a full seven days of consecutive medicine for your immune system and inflammatory meters to calm down. Allergy sufferers should keep taking it throughout the allergy season for full relief.

Q: Which remedies do you recommend for children, teens, adults and older adults?
A:** I recommend trying three things, which can all be applied together. First, I recommend taking an over-the-counter antihistamine. Claritin or Loratadine work for 70 percent of the population. If you’re not getting relief after two weeks, you should change it up. Allegra is another option. You need to take it twice a day and it is only safe for people 12 and older.

If you are still miserable after trying one of the above antihistamines, a nasal steroid works faster. They are now available over the counter and can be used in children down to the age of six. You will notice a huge difference in 72 hours and I advise people with allergies to keep using them through the end of the allergy season. Once you stop, your system will get fired up again.

A nasal saline wash also offers terrific symptom relief for people 12 years and older. It washes all the pollen out of your nasal passages and shrinks the swelling in the tissue.

Q: Are there remedies people should stay away from?
A:** Benadryl is both an antihistamine and a diphenhydramine, which causes side effects that can dry you up and make you drowsy. You think you’re feeling better because of the side effects, not the antihistamine. For an adult, 50 milligrams of Benadryl will impair your driving more than an alcoholic limit of .10 and most people won’t realize they are impaired.

Zyrtec never got a true non-drowsy rating from the FDA, so I’d recommend taking it at night if you do take it, and I don’t recommend it for children under the age of six and adults over 70.

Q: When should someone see a doctor for their seasonal allergies?
A:** If you’re still not seeing relief after trying an antihistamine, a nasal steroid and a nasal saline wash, it’s worth seeing your doctor. He or she can write a prescription for other options.

Q: Are there indoor allergies Coloradans should be aware of?
A: Colorado is very fortunate to not have cockroaches and mold that can cause many indoor allergens. However, because we have a very dry climate, we do have a lot of dust that can cause some irritation to the nose and airways. I recommend not opening your windows for ventilation on days when pollen levels are high as dust can make things worse and stay in the house.

Q: Anything else we should know heading into grass season?
A: If you’re at risk for food allergies or other reactions, like peanut and bee stings, you can have more intense encounters with seasonal allergies. Be extra careful as your immune system is amped up from other allergens.

Need to find a primary care provider (PCP) to help you manage your seasonal allergy flare-up? Visit Bright Health’s Provider Finder tool or Colorado Allergy & Asthma Centers , which are in-network for Bright Health members__.

Author: Stephanie Sample

June 20, 2017