Nasal Steroids

Nearly one in five people has allergies, with symptoms ranging from mildly annoying to deadly. Although allergies cannot be cured, they can be treated. Since knowledge is the first step, here's a guide to what you need to know about allergies and their recommended treatments.

1. How can you tell if you have a cold or an allergy?

"Allergies and respiratory infections have many overlapping symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing and a runny nose," says Supriya Varadarajulu, MD, asthma and allergic diseases specialist at Park Nicollet Clinic. There are a couple ways to distinguish allergy symptoms from cold symptoms. With allergies, there often is an "itch" component, such as: itchy, watery eyes or an itchy throat. You'll also find that your symptoms persist for several weeks or may recur the same time each year. "If these sound like your symptoms, you should see your doctor to be checked for allergies," she explains.

2. What are the most effective treatments for seasonal allergies?

"Many allergy medications are sold over the counter. These mostly include different antihistamines in combination with decongestants," says Dr. Varadarajulu. These medications give adequate relief for some patients, but prescription nasal steroids turn out to be more effective and very safe.

Nasal steroids require a few weeks of consistent use to reach their full effect. "I advise my patients to begin using them in March, so when allergy season is at its peak, so is their medication."

3. Why should people with asthma carry a rescue inhaler?

Rescue inhalers provide quick relief from asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. People with allergy-induced asthma may come in contact with allergens at any time. For example, simply walking into a house with cat dander can be enough to trigger an attack.

Many rescue inhalers use the medication AlbuterolR, a bronchodilator that relaxes tightened muscles around the airways to improve airflow. It's important to get a new prescription each year, since outdated inhalers lose their effectiveness. If you are using your rescue inhaler more than twice a week, you should see your doctor to discuss your condition.

4. Who needs an epinephrine auto-injector - and why?

An epinephrine auto-injector is a self-injecting syringe that administers epinephrine, a type of adrenaline. It can quickly reverse severe allergic symptoms, known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include respiratory problems, throat swelling, a drop in blood pressure or even a loss of consciousness.

Various allergens can trigger these reactions. The most common reactions are food, insect stings, medicines and latex. Sometimes allergens are nearly impossible to avoid, so people who know they are at risk for anaphylaxis should always carry an auto-injector.

5. How are food allergies treated?

Eight foods account for about 90 percent of all food allergies. These include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. People who are allergic to these foods should simply stay away from them. "Most food allergies occur because of accidental ingestion," Dr. Varadarajulu says. "Many times the reaction can be very severe, resulting in anaphylaxis. Anyone with a known severe food allergy should always carry at least one epinephrine auto-injector - if not two. About 30 percent of food allergies require a second dose."

After any severe food reaction, people should seek immediate medical help by calling 911 or going to a hospital emergency room - even if they've used an auto-injector. Sometimes the effects of epinephrine wear off, leaving a patient in need of additional help.