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Sneezing and sniffling your way through the seasons

Leah Landry

Dry eyes? Itchy skin? Sneezing and coughing every other second? Yes, it’s allergy season for over 14 million Americans. But what’s the science behind these summer pests? This week on “Take Care,” we talk to Dr. Juan Sotomayor, an expert on allergies, asthma, immunology and pulmonary disease who has his own private practice in Syracuse.

Click "Read More" to hear our interview with Dr. Juan Sotomayor.

An allergic reaction occurs when a particle is small enough to be able to penetrate the mucus membrane, Dr. Sotomayor said. These particles cause a release of histamines, which triggers reactions like a runny nose and sneezing. Allergies also can range from very mild to severe.

“Sensitivity can vary and reactions can vary. There are levels of reaction ranging from just a little bit of sneezing, mild itching, everything can be very mild to very severe,” he said.

For those who do suffer from allergies, there are a couple of options including over-the-counter medication and allergy shots. Unlike the over-the-counter medications which attack symptoms, Dr. Sotomayor said that allergy shots actually attack the allergies at the immune level. He suggests that if your quality of life is not severely affected by your allergies, over-the-counter medication is probably right for you. On the other hand, if your quality of life is affected or if you’re getting into secondary reactions, like red and blotchy skin or wheezing, it might be best to see a doctor.

Although allergies are genetic, there is no way of knowing who will get them, Dr. Sotyomayor said, adding that men tend to become effected earlier in life than women. He added that allergies do not peak until your 30s, 40s or even 50s and eventually start to come down as you enter your senior years. This means that getting a new allergy later in life can be very typical.

If you think you are developing a new seasonal allergy, here are some steps you can take and some questions to ask yourself, Dr. Sotomayor suggests, in order to stay healthy:

  1. Check the season – In this area, March and April are tree pollen seasons and May and June are ripe for grass pollen. However, around August there’s a slight bit of relief for allergy sufferers. If you’re getting symptoms during spring and early summer, it’s possible it could be an allergy.
  2. Is it a cold? it can be difficult to differentiate between a cold and allergies, but here are some tips. If you have a fever, it’s probably not an allergy. If this is something that’s been popping up the same time every year, it could be an allergy. If other family members are sick and you have symptoms like a stomach ache and muscle pains, it’s probably not an allergy.
  3. Get tested – the best way to figure it out is to get checked out by a doctor. There are many ways to get tested for allergies, including scratch test, prick test and blood tests.

If you want to get rid of allergens on your own, Dr. Sotomayor suggests avoiding fabric in your home, if possible, because this is where allergens tend to hide. High altitude and high humidity are the best conditions for you. Also, make sure to close your windows in your house and car so allergens can’t sneak in.