Allergy Season

May 19, 2019 | Penn Highlands ENT

Tis the season – for allergies. 

“Allergy season is in full swing,” said Dr. Justin MacCarthy, an otorhinolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat specialist, at Penn Highlands Healthcare who treats patients with allergies in his office in Clearfield.

As for what allergies are in season, MacCarthy said it depends on what you're allergic to and where you live.

If you have seasonal allergies or hay fever, tree pollens can trigger symptoms in the late winter or spring. Ragweed release pollen in the summer and fall, MacCarthy said. The specifics also depend on where you live. Allergy season can start as early as January in Southern states and linger into November.

Allergic disease is one of the most common chronic health conditions in the world. People with a family history of allergies have an increase risk of developing allergic disease, such as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, eczema, hives, asthma and food allergy. Allergy symptoms can range from mild to a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Is it allergies or just a cold?

“Colds usually get better,” MacCarthy said. “Allergies are a consistent thing. They don’t just go away; symptoms persist.”

MacCarthy said allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. Generally, allergies are more common in children. However, a first-time occurrence can happen at any age, or recur after many years of remission. Hormones, stress, smoke, perfumes or environmental irritants may also play a role in the development or severity of allergies.

Allergic reactions begin in your immune system, according to MacCarthy. When a substance such as dust, mold or pollen is encountered by a person who is allergic to that substance, the immune system may over react by producing antibodies that "attack" the allergen. That can cause wheezing, itching, runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, and other symptoms.

Moving is not the answer, MacCarthy said, regarding environmental factors. Though trees, grass and weeds that are not the same in other parts of the country, the allergies you have in Clearfield, Jefferson or Elk County could be different if you moved somewhere else, like Arizona. 

“We just look at the allergies in this area,” he said, adding those can include: dust, animal dander, insect dander, pollens, grasses, weeds and trees.

“If you move, you may have to be tested again because of different environmental factors,” he said. “We don’t test for allergies elsewhere because we only certain serums specific to this area on hand.”

MacCarthy said medications for allergies are available over the counter, but he suggests seeing a specialist if they do not seem to be helping or you are feeling overwhelmed. He recommends trying an antihistamine, such as Zyrtec, Claritin, Xyzal or Allegra.

“There are nose sprays you can use that are available over the counter, too,” he said. “But I think personally it would be beneficial to contact your doctor and consider allergy testing.”

MacCarthy said there are two types of testing available in his office, a blood test or the skin prick test.

Both detect food-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE). MacCarthy said with the skin tests, the result is immediate, but the blood test result will take at least several days to arrive. Unlike the skin prick test, the blood test is not affected by antihistamines and can be performed for people with extensive rashes that prevent using skin tests.

The skin test is done in the office and takes up to two hours. A small dose of an allergen is put into the surface of the skin, and he looks for a reaction for something that looks like a wheel at the injection site. 

MacCarthy said he tests 48 different serums to determine if the patient needs to receive a weekly allergy shot.  “We make up the serums based on the reaction,” he said. “If it’s a bad reaction, we start off with a very tiny, diluted dose; if it’s a mild reaction, it’s more of a concentrated dose.”

The shots are not uncomfortable or painful. He said they will watch the patient’s reactions and cut back if necessary. “Most of our patients eventually end up on maintenance shots, once or twice a month,” he said.

You can’t make allergies “go away” but MacCarthy does have some advice for making things just a bit more tolerable. 

“Right now, we are in allergy season,” he said. “If you have a smart phone or weather app you can monitor the pollen count for this area and know which days might be better for outdoor activities.”

“Also, if you are allergic to dust, get covers for your pillows and clean your vents on air conditioners,” he said. “And if you live in an older home, be on the lookout for mold.”

For more information about allergies, call the Penn Highlands ENT office at 814-768-2822.