Allergists looking at samples in lab.
By Terry Kelly

UNM Health Allergist Shares Tips on Easing Symptoms

Itchy eyes? Runny or congested nose? Can’t stop sneezing? Join the club because it’s that time of year: allergy season.

Unfortunately, the Land of Enchantment is home to several particularly severe allergens, including grasses, trees, weeds and perhaps the most notorious, juniper.

“Juniper happens to be a very powerful and potent allergen,” says Mark Schuyler, MD, chief of Allergy and Immunology for University of New Mexico Health System. “The same goes for weeds, especially Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, and in the spring trees are severe as well.”

Schuyler received his certification in allergy and immunology 40 years ago and has been an allergist at UNM for three decades. To ease symptoms, he recommends trying an over-the-counter medication such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin.

“Additionally, there are locally active nasal steroids, such as in Flonase or Nasacort,” he says. “Using one of these medications is the first step that will improve symptoms quite a bit for most people.”

Before you head out each day, Schuyler also recommends checking the daily pollen count on the City of Albuquerque’s website. Every workday (except in the winter when pollen levels are typically low), it reports on the air quality and, given the number of people it affects, an update of the juniper levels.

There are some things you can do around your house to help reduce allergens in the air:

  • Clean your bedroom, which is the most important room in your house for allergens, Schuyler says. You spend a lot of time there, and your head is relatively closer to the floor when you are sleeping. Vacuum your carpets, clean your curtains and dust your ceiling fans with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Your pets can bring in pollen and other allergens from outside, so if they enjoy a lot of time outdoors on a day with a particularly high pollen count, consider giving them a rinse to remove allergens from their fur. In addition, you should keep pets out of your bedroom to help prevent them from tracking in pollen.
  • Wash your hair at night to avert transferring pollen to your pillowcase.
  • Buy high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters for your furnace or air conditioner.

If your symptoms still persist, then you can make an appointment through your primary care physician to see an allergist, who might prescribe allergen immunotherapy or allergy shots. The shots increase immunity and resistance to a particular allergen. Providers typically administer the shots to a patient twice a week for three months, then weekly for another three months, then once or twice a month for a total of three to five years.

“These are very effective, but it requires a considerable time commitment on the part of the patient,” Schuyler says. “It has to be performed in a physician’s office."

Another option is sublingual immunotherapy, which originated in Europe. This therapy involves a patient placing a tablet of a known allergen under his or her tongue for one or two minutes before swallowing it. Over time, this will build the patient’s resistance to that allergen. It’s been used in Europe for over 20 years, and the Food and Drug Administration has approved five tablets for use - including grass and dust mites.

Make an Appointment

Call the Allergy clinics at UNM Health for help in reducing your symptoms. Call 505-272-1715 and leave your name and medical record number (if available), and the allergy staff will schedule your appointment.

Categories: Health & Wellness