Cicadas screaming every evening? Check. Summer perennials fading? Check. Allergy symptoms kicking into high gear? Check, check, and CHECK. It must be almost fall in Iowa!
Fall allergies can range from a minor annoyance (with an occasionally runny nose or itchy eyes) to a major hindrance that has a big impact on your quality of life. Wherever you land on this spectrum, there are treatment options available. Let’s look at what causes fall allergies, how to differentiate them from other conditions, and potential steps for treatment.
The Main Offenders: Triggers of Fall Allergies
What are the main causes of fall allergies in the Des Moines area? Here are the top culprits:
- Ragweed pollen: Arguably the biggest cause of fall allergies, ragweed thrives in rural areas and undeveloped land. A single ragweed plant can release a billion pollen grains in just one season, and the wind can carry these grains for miles. For those who are allergic, this means symptoms can flare up even if the plant isn’t visible in your immediate environment.
- Mold and mildew: Decomposing leaves and moist soil create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. These microscopic spores become airborne and can be inhaled, leading to allergic reactions.
- Dust mites and indoor allergens: As temperatures drop, we close windows and start using heating systems. This can circulate dust mites and other indoor allergens. If you’re allergic, this can mean a flare-up of symptoms within your own home.
Is It Allergies? Or Something Else?
The symptoms of fall allergies can be similar to those of a cold or even the flu. However, the duration is often the distinguishing factor. Colds and flu will usually resolve within a week or two, while allergy symptoms can persist for as long as you’re exposed to the allergen. Also, allergies don’t usually involve a fever—which is a common influenza symptom.
Fall allergies can manifest in several ways:
- Runny, stuffy, and/or itchy nose
- Frequent sneezing
- Red, itchy, and/or watery eyes
- Coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing, especially for those with pre-existing conditions like asthma
- Hives or eczema flare-ups
At-home Treatment for Allergies
If your allergy symptoms are mild and don’t interfere with your sleep or other aspects of your life, at-home treatment may be your best bet. There are several kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications you can try. Before taking any medication, check with your doctor to make sure it doesn’t interfere with other medications or medical conditions.
At-home allergy treatments can include:
- Antihistamines: Brands like Benadryl and Claritin block histamine, alleviating many allergic symptoms.
- Decongestants: These offer immediate but temporary relief from nasal congestion.
- Steroid nasal sprays: These are good for chronic symptoms and are often used in conjunction with antihistamines.
- Neti pot: This helps to irrigate your sinuses—removing excess mucus, pollen, and other debris. Never use a neti pot with infants. Also, make sure to always use sterile water to avoid infections.
When to See a Doctor about Allergies
When should you seek treatment for fall allergies? The answer depends on the severity and duration of your symptoms. Mild, short-term symptoms might be manageable with over-the-counter medications.
However, if you find that your symptoms interfere with your daily life, last for weeks, or become progressively worse, it’s time to consult a doctor. Persistent or severe symptoms can often lead to secondary issues like sinus infections, sleep disturbances, or worsening of asthma, making it crucial to get a proper diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.
Prescription Allergy Medications
If you decide to talk to a doctor about treatment for your allergies, they may offer a few different options. Most likely, though, they’ll recommend you start by trying prescription allergy medication.
Prescription allergy medications can offer a more potent form of relief. These may include prescription-strength antihistamines that provide longer-lasting relief from symptoms, as well as prescription nasal sprays containing corticosteroids to effectively reduce inflammation.
Some people may also benefit from leukotriene inhibitors. These target different pathways in the allergic response. It’s important to consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and tailored treatment plan, which may involve one or a combination of these prescription medications. At Iowa ENT Center, our allergy specialists can help you determine the most effective prescription treatment for your specific symptoms.
Immunotherapy: A Proactive Approach to Allergy Management
For those who suffer from chronic or severe allergies, immunotherapy can be a game-changer. This preventive treatment aims to build up your tolerance to allergens, reducing the frequency and intensity of your allergic reactions over time.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
The core idea behind immunotherapy is gradual exposure. By slowly and systematically exposing your immune system to your allergen(s), the body learns to be less reactive. The end result? A life where allergies are a minor nuisance rather than a major disruptor. The success rate of immunotherapy is compelling—about 85% of patients report a significant reduction or complete elimination of allergy symptoms.
Before we start immunotherapy for allergies, we conduct an allergy test to determine what you’re allergic to—and to what extent. This simple, painless test is available in both our West Des Moines and Ankeny offices and is done by a member of our experienced allergy team.
During the test, our allergy specialist will:
- Clean a small area of your skin (usually on your forearm or back).
- Dip a series of connected plastic prongs into different liquids; each liquid contains a different kind of allergen (plants, trees, dust, household pets, etc.).
- Gently press the plastic prongs onto the cleaned area of your skin.
- Wait about 15 minutes.
- Look for (and measure) signs of an allergic reaction to each allergen (such as redness, swelling, or itching).
Once the test is finished, we’ll review your results with you so you know exactly what triggers your allergies. You may only be allergic to a few things—or many. We’ll also print your results so you can take them with you.
Allergy Shots or Drops?
Most people associate immunotherapy with injections, or “allergy shots.” This is still a great option and is covered by most insurance plans.
At Iowa ENT Center, we also offer a painless and often more convenient alternative—allergy drops. Many patients find they experience results more quickly with allergy drops compared to shots.
The Immunotherapy Process
Once your allergens are identified, we custom-formulate an allergy medication specifically for you. This medication contains small amounts of the allergens identified during your testing. By gradually exposing you to these allergens, we help your body build up immunity to them—eventually reducing or even eliminating your allergy symptoms.
Your first dose is administered at our office. Whether you choose allergy shots or drops, our allergy specialists will also show you how to administer the treatment yourself.
After the initial dose, you can continue the treatment at your convenience—be it at home, work, or elsewhere. You’ll start with a low concentration of the extract and gradually move to a maintenance dose with a higher concentration over time.
Immunotherapy Side Effects and Safety
Immunotherapy has a strong safety record. Some patients might experience mild side effects such as tingling or minor swelling in the area where the drops or shots are given. These symptoms usually resolve within the first couple of vials. Severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis are exceedingly rare, but those with severe allergies should always carry an EpiPen as a precaution.
Immunotherapy for Children
Immunotherapy has also been shown to be effective and safe for children. Learn about one Des Moines-area family’s experience with immunotherapy at Iowa ENT Center.
Immunotherapy and Insurance
Immunotherapy is generally covered by most insurance plans. It’s worth noting, however, that allergy drops (sublingual immunotherapy) are generally not covered by insurance, even though other aspects of immunotherapy usually are covered. If your Iowa ENT Center physician recommends this treatment, we can provide you with a cost estimate for both allergy drops and shots to help you make an informed decision.
No Referral Required for Iowa’s Allergy Experts
At Iowa ENT Center, we pride ourselves on offering the most up-to-date treatment options for allergies. We not only identify your specific allergens but also tailor a personalized treatment plan that may include leading-edge therapies like immunotherapy.
We always accept new patients, we never require a referral, and we accept most insurance plans. To schedule a consultation, call us at 515-223-4368 today. We look forward to helping you improve your health and your quality of life!