HOUSTON --Sneezes, coughs and sniffles may have started sooner than ever before this year, thanks to an early spring allergy season that may wreak havoc on the health of millions of allergy sufferers. That yellow blanket of pollen outside came quicker and thicker this year because of warmer temps, windier conditions that lifted the pollen from trees and effects of El Nino that created a wet breeding ground for pollen-producing trees and grasses.
Given the onslaught of these conditions, physicians at American Family Care have identified the Top Five Habits That Make Allergies Worse. With more than 160 medical centers in 26 states seeing more than 2 million patients a year, AFC evaluates more allergy sufferers than virtually any other health care provider outside of the federal government.
"We have a unique perspective on the severity of the season and how to mitigate suffering," says Dr. Jeremy Allen, a board certified family practitioner at American Family Care. "More and more people visit our clinics thinking they have a cold, but in many cases it is an allergy attack." Indeed, visits by allergy sufferers are increasing at AFC clinics, and many of those patients' everyday habits are actually making their allergies worse.
Top Five Habits That Make Allergies Worse:
1. Eating certain fruits and vegetables: We are raised to think eating our veggies is good for us. Researchers with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found proteins in certain foods can cause ragweed sufferers to end up with an itchy mouth. The experts say bananas, melons and tomatoes can cause a cross-reaction.
2. Making your bed: Dust mites love to put down roots in bedding and mattresses. AFCphysicians say at night, while you sleep, moisture from body sweat helps keep the little critters alive. When you make your bed in the morning, you are tucking in those pesky bugs so they cannot escape. Airing out your sheets can make it harder for allergens and bedbugs to stay alive.
3. Wearing contact lenses: In some cases, AFC doctors say lenses can trap pollen against the surface of the eye. This can be an even bigger issue for anyone who is already suffering from red, itchy eyes triggered by seasonal allergies.
4. Drinking alcohol: An extra glass of wine at dinner could irritate existing allergies. A Danish study* found that for every additional alcoholic drink in a week, the risk of seasonal allergies increased by three percent. The researchers suspect the bacteria and yeast in the alcohol produce histamines and cause a stuffy nose or itchy eyes.
5. Using the dishwasher: A Swedish study published in the journal Pediatrics found children do not develop as many allergies if they eat off hand washed dishes rather than plates or bowls cleaned in a dishwasher. Researchers found automated dishwashers kill so much bacteria children cannot build up an immunity.
"It is always best to get checked out by a physician so you know exactly what kind of condition you are dealing with because a battle with seasonal allergies can last as long as there is exposure," Allen said. "People with allergies are more likely to suffer from sinus problems because their nasal and sinus tissues swell as they breathe dust, pollen or smoke. The average wait time to see a specialist is 20 days. When an allergy attack hits, people want relief right away. That's why urgent care centers like ours are open seven days a week as the go-to solution for assessing and mitigating seasonal allergies."
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms:
Itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes
Many allergy treatment options are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the first time, these include three sublingual (under the tongue) prescription products to treat hay fever (also called "allergic rhinitis") - with or without the eye inflammation or "conjunctivitis"- caused by certain grass pollens and short ragweed pollen. The new products - Grastek, Oralair and Ragwitek - can be taken at home, but the first dose must be taken in a health care provider's office.
Tips to Fight Symptoms:
Stay inside during the times of the year when symptoms surface.
Keep car and house windows closed; use air conditioning instead.
Take a shower before bed to rinse pollen off hair and skin.
Wear a dust mask outside.