June 6, 2011— -- Allergy season is at its worst in 10 years, meaning lots of itchy eyes, runny noses and wheezing lungs for the 93 million U.S. allergy sufferers out there.
"We are seeing a mini-crisis in New York City, among other U.S. cities, due to heavy winter and early spring precipitation that has caused more early, and sustained tree and grass pollens in many areas," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. "Secondary, we have seen a steady rise in pollen levels in many areas."
But with all the information available on seasonal allergies, many people are still confused by the myths and facts about allergy suffering and relief.
"Patients frequently blame the cause of their allergy symptoms on the wrong thing," said Dr. Stanley Fineman, clinical assistant professor in the division of allergy at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "It is important for patients suffering from allergies to find out exactly what is triggering their symptoms."
So, here are nine common allergy myths that are often confused as facts.
1. Myth: Only take medication when showing symptoms of an allergy attack.
Experts say most allergy medications work best if they are already in the person's system or immediately after exposure, even if the person has shown no allergic symptoms.
"For patients with asthma and allergic rhinitis, allergic inflammation in the airways can be present even if the person can't feel it," said Dr. James Li, chair of the allergy division at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "It's there smoldering. But it's clear that, for patients with asthma, daily treatment can reduce the risk of asthma attacks."
Even though a person might suffer from low levels of symptoms, as the season progresses, Li said, a person can experience complete obstruction of the nasal passage if it goes untreated.
"By that time, it's almost too late to take a medication," he said.
2. Myth: If you use one brand of allergy medication, you build a tolerance and it will stop working.
"This one comes up all the time," Li said. "If someone has significant allergies, they may take a medication and it seems to be helping, but then the person develops more allergy trouble and they conclude that they developed a tolerance to the medication."
Li said allergic reactions wax and wane with time. When symptoms are mild, many people believe their allergy medication is stronger and works better.
"Allergy symptoms progress, not because a person has built tolerance to the medication, but their allergies have gotten worse or exposure to the allergen has increased," Li said.
3. Myth: Allergy shots only work in children.
Experts say allergy shots, or immunotherapy, have nothing to do with age and can offer relief at any time. The shots contain just enough of an allergen to stimulate the immune system, but not enough to cause an allergic reaction.
With each session, doctors increase the amount of allergen in the shot. The idea is for a person to build up a tolerance to the specific allergen over time.