Interview by Elizabeth Schainbaum
Is your nose stuffy or runny? Eyes itchy? Throat scratchy? Allergies are nothing to sneeze at.
Allergy season depends on where you live and if you are allergic to grass, trees, weeds, or dust mites, according to Myngoc Nguyen, MD, chief of Allergy for Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. If you are allergic to all of these things—and more and more people are—and if you come into contact with what you are allergic to, then your symptoms can last year-round.
Kaiser Permanente had a Q&A with with Dr. Nguyen to gain a better understanding on allergies, which affect one in five Americans and account for 17 million outpatient visits a year, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America.
What are allergies and why do some people get them?
The body is overreacting to a harmless substance such as dust, pollen, plants, medications, or foods. Some people are born with a predisposition, and it can trigger at any time. Allergies symptoms include a runny nose, a rash, or something more life-threatening, such as a drop in blood pressure or an inability to breathe.
Is there an allergy season?
It depends on the area and what type of allergies you have. In Northern California, January to July is the season for people who are allergic to grass and trees such as junipers and ciders. In August and September, it’s weeds. Dust mites can be a problem year-round, but tend to be worse from October through December.
Can you outgrow allergies?
I wouldn’t use the word outgrow, but I think you can be in remission for whatever reason. It often happens if someone moves locations. But it can also happen if you are not stressed, eat healthy, and exercise. All those factors can help with allergies and explain why some years are worse than others.
You’ve been treating allergies for 26 years, do you see any trends?
More people are allergic. And it’s more of every kind of allergic reactions: hay fever, skin such as hives or eczema, asthma. We don’t really understand why, but we think it may be because of global warming. When we have a warmer, drier climate, the grass and trees live longer, and there’s a higher pollen count because there’s no rain to wash it away.
What are three good tips to alleviate allergy symptoms?
Check out pollen.com to find out the pollen levels in your area. You can also use the site to look up four-day allergy forecasts for your zip code, and sign up to get email alerts. The more information you have, the better prepared you'll be to manage your symptoms.
Another tip is to keep doors and windows closed and use the air conditioner. Be sure to set the AC to recirculate, and if it’s not hot outside, you can keep it in filter-only mode. Using a car air conditioner can reduce the amount of pollen you breathe in by as much as 30 percent.
Room air purifiers and filters are an extremely effective way to remove pollen, animal dander, dust, and other allergens from indoor air. But doors and windows in the room where you're using one must be closed for it to be effective.
What do you recommend to allergy sufferers who love the outdoors?
If you love an outdoor workout, avoid the morning or early afternoon. Grasses and trees start releasing pollen at sunrise, with levels peaking in the late morning and early afternoon. I always suggest people run after work in the late afternoon or evening. I’d also recommend taking medication regularly and doing a nasal rinse during pollen season.