Year after year residents stock up on tissue and any antihistamine medications they can get their hands on, as thick layers of pollen cover their cars and clothes.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies including indoor and outdoor, food and drug, latex, insect, and skin allergies.
In their annual research project, AAFA identified “the 100 most challenging places to live with allergies” in the spring season for the year of 2011.
Birmingham, the only city in Alabama that made the list, scored 89.17 out of 100, and was ranked number six, moving up dramatically from number 15 last year.
Knoxville, Tenn. came in first with a full score of 100; Louisville, Ky. came in second with a score of 94.95, Charlotte, N.C. was third with a score of 92.24, Jackson, Miss. came in fourth with a score of 91.65, and Chattanooga, Tenn. rounded out the top five with a score of 89.28.
The scores were calculated from pollen scores, the number of allergy medications patients used, and the numbers of allergy specialists there were per patient.
Although the study limited itself to large metropolitan areas, sneezes and sniffles can be heard all around the state of Alabama from large cities to small rural towns.
The state is one of the stars in the country’s “allergy belt,” making life for those suffering from indoor and outdoor allergies almost unbearable.
Dr. Tony McLeod, an ear, nose, and throat doctor who practices in Talladega, Sylacauga, and Alexander City, has seen patients with everything from seasonal allergies to chronic sinusitis over the last 15 years.
“We have people who come in with the typical runny nose, itchy eyes, and coughing,” McLeod said.
“Then you have other people who come in with rashes because of their allergies; trouble sleeping, sore throats from drainage, all those can be linked to allergy problems.”
McLeod said out of all his patients, about 80 percent come to him with allergy problems and 20 percent have sinus infections.
“It can be hard to tell sometimes because a lot of them could have some of the same problems,” McLeod said.
“Some allergies occur during different seasons of the year, these are primarily the spring allergies, and some people have fall allergies and some people have true chronic sinusitis where they have problems year round.”
He said those with chronic sinusitis may succumb to fever, or feel pain in their upper teeth.
Soreness and tenderness in their cheeks may also occur, making the symptoms feel more like an infection.
McLeod also said it was important to look at the drainage coming from the nose and throat.
He said any discolored or yellow and greenish drainage is a sign of a sinus infection; drainage from seasonal allergies tends to be clear or white.
“We do an exam and we have nasal endoscopes and that just allows us to look up in there and look at the sinus,” McLeod said.
A sinus operation might be necessary if chronic sinusitis becomes a serious problem for someone suffering with it year-round.
But for those suffering from seasonal allergies, treatment options may be as simple as ordering medication over the counter.
The AAFA found that for the first time in their nine-year history of conducting the study, the number of prescribed allergy medications-per-patient was less than 1.0.
They noted that the decline in the average number of allergy medications-per-patient most likely indicates that patients are relying more on over-the-counter allergy medications than before because the scope, variety, and strength of those medications today are larger than they were in the past
“The allergies and sinuses really affect everybody,” McLeod said. “A lot of kids have it and we see adults who are 75 to 80 years old who still have it, so it affects everybody.”
For patients suffering from seasonal allergies, McLeod recommends basic medications like antihistamines.
If patients do not respond to the antihistamines, he gives the patient a steroid injection.
“If they continue to have problems I call a lot of them in for an allergy test,” McLeod said.
“Sometimes I take an X-ray to look for pileups or for chronic infection in the sinus you can’t see.”
If there is a strong buildup in the sinus, McLeod said sometimes the sinus surgery called balloon sinuplasty may be necessary in order to drain it.
“We did the first balloon sinuplasty in Talladgea about two weeks ago,” McLeod said.
“I’ve been doing them in some of the other hospitals for years but I hadn’t done one in Talladega.”
He said the reason why balloon sinuplasty is popular among those suffering with chronic sinusitis is because there is not much downtime after the procedure is over.
McLeod said a lot of people can go back to work after the procedure is done.
“It’s a lot like an angioplasty,” McLeod said. “You put a little wire in the sinus and inflate a balloon in the sinus and it blows up several times the normal size and that allows much better drainage.
“Not everyone is a candidate, but for the people that are candidates they really like it.”
McLeod recommends that one stay inside with the car and house windows up if it is a high-pollen day.
“If they have allergies that seem to be inside, any hard surface like wood or linoleum is better than carpet,” McLeod said.
“For kids, keep them away from stuffed animals, they hold a lot of dust and dust mites.”
Contact Aziza Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org