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Fighting Back Against Allergies



As the weather gets warmer, trees and flowers begin to pollinate, sending tiny spores into the air. Because of this, many of you may suffer allergy symptoms such as itchy or watery eyes, a stuffed or runny nose or, in some cases, difficulty breathing. If you participate in outdoor exercises such as walking, jogging, biking or open-air sports, you may feel inclined to stay indoors during this time, but you don't have to. You can fight back against allergies and enjoy your normal lifestyle.

Before discussing what you can do about allergies, you need to understand what they are and what can cause them. There are many types of allergies, and the allergens that trigger symptoms can be found both indoors and outdoors. There are seasonal allergies that only occur at certain times of year, and there are non-seasonal allergies that can occur year round. Pollen is a major cause of seasonal allergies, but you may also be allergic to such common indoor triggers as dust mites, animal dander, tobacco smoke or insect droppings. Certain types of food can produce allergic reactions as well. Sometimes extreme reactions may result from bee stings or ant bites. All of these are treatable, especially if they are caught early.

When pollen or some other aggravating foreign substance enters your body, your immune system rises to your defense. A chemical called histamine is sent to the affected area, carrying extra lymph fluid and blood. The lymph fluid contains immune cells that fight the infection, and blood carries away the spent allergens. In those people who are not susceptible to allergies, this process goes on unnoticed. However, in those who are sensitive, a noticeable swelling may occur in the area. This swelling can usually be counteracted with antihistamines or certain natural cures.

Dr. Jay Prochnau, a staff allergist with the Ochsner Foundation Clinic, says that most mild allergies can be treated with non-prescription medicines. He recommends that if you take these over-the-counter medicines you carefully read the labels for possible side effects, the most common of which may be drowsiness. If allergy symptoms are acute and over-the-counter products don't seem to work, he recommends you see a doctor. Stronger measures, such as a prescription nasal spray or shots, may be necessary.

If you suspect you have allergies, get tested for them, Dr. Prochnau suggests. Simple tests that lightly scratch or prick the skin with common allergic substances can visually indicate what allergens affect you, then a doctor can recommend appropriate treatment.

"You don't have to live like a hermit and stay indoors if the pollen count is high," Dr. Prochnau says. "With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can go on with your normal life."

Patrick McCausland, general manager of my four GNC stores, notes that there are natural supplements that can counteract allergies. Among them are quercetin, a powerful antioxidant commonly found in members of the onion family; oregano, in both capsule and oil form; and, in some cases, bee pollen. He also suggests vitamin C. However, he cautions against taking any of these without a medical consultation. "Always check with your doctor first," he says.

That is what I suggest as well. Allergies can be a serious deterrent to normal comfort levels or they can be just plain aggravating. But we don't have to let them slow us down and deprive us of the activities we enjoy so much. You can fight back against allergies in the ways I mentioned and go about your normal activities. For up-to-date information on pollen counts, check the "weather" links on AOL or go to www.weatherbug.com.

(John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at (504) 842-9110 or through his Web site www.mackieshilstone.com.

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