Fighting Allergies in San Diego

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More than half of the nation’s population test positive for at least one allergy, according to a 2005 study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. San Diegans in particular have a lot of allergens to deal with because of the region’s biodiversity. In fact, San Diego has more biodiversity than any other county in North America and, along with the rest of California, is among the top 10 biodiversity regions on earth. The mild, Mediterranean climate (hot dry summers and cool, wet winters) and varied land forms create a number of distinct habitats, but they also create a lot of allergy problems for residents and visitors alike.

Ronald Simon, MD, an allergist at Scripps Clinic says, “This region is unique. Theoretically, if the wind is blowing off the ocean, we should have very little pollen in the air. But when we get a Santa Ana wind condition, we get hit with allergens from as far away as Nevada and Arizona. And after rains, the trees and weeds and grasses in our canyons wake up and send out pollen clouds.”

For those who don’t suffer from allergies, let us describe the feeling: The insides of your eyelids are itchy, but no amount of rubbing your eyes will ever be enough to get it to go away. Sneezing happens every few seconds, making conversations (and sometimes even breathing) feel impossible. Your whole head feels clogged, but there’s nothing that can drain it. Same goes for coughing. This lasts day in and day out, and you sometimes wonder if you’ll ever feel relief or see the end of “allergy season”.

But how can those who suffer cope with their symptoms? It turns out that sufferers can generally manage their own symptoms at home. Dr. Simon recommends the following advice if you have allergies and want to avoid symptoms as much as possible:

Use antihistamines. These drugs relieve itching, sneezing a watering of the eyes and nose. While the safest, most effective allergy medications used to be prescription-only and pricey, Dr. Simon says nearly all allergy medicine now have less expensive generic equivalents or are available over-the-counter. Some are even non-sedating.

Use decongestants. For the congestion that can result from constant exposure to allergens, Dr. Simon says it’s important to choose a decongestant, not an antihistamine. OTC medications with a –D after their name contain decongestant as well as the primary medication, and can help reduce swelling in the nose and lungs as needed. However, they can also cause nervousness, fast heartbeats, insomnia and—in some people—increased blood pressure.

Avoidance and barriers are important. If you know you suffer from allergies to animal dander, for example, you should minimize time spent around pets and get zip-up encasements for your mattress and pillows that trap dust mites inside, away from the nose and lungs. You can keep those kicked-up mites (as well as other particulates) out of the respiratory system by wearing an inexpensive N-95 respirator from the hardware store when you dust or vacuum, or when there are problems with outdoor dust, smoke and other irritants.

We hope you make it through this allergy season and come out on top with Dr. Simon’s advice.

Lauren lives in OB with her French bulldog, Elvis Presley. She loves laughter and the great outdoors. You can contact her at [email protected].

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