Basin echoes with sound of sneezing
If there was a battle between seasons, spring would be taking home the trophy in the last few weeks in the Lake Tahoe Basin – bringing with it beauty, warmth and … allergies.
The main culprits here at South Lake Tahoe are the trees, said Brian Romaneschi, a doctor at Sierra Nevada Ear, Nose and Throat Assoc., but it goes much further than that. The basin gets more than its share of allergens, he said.
“I think the problem here is that we have three different environments,” said Romaneschi. “We have desert, farmland and trees at the lake. You can even get things blown here from down in the Sacramento Valley.”
One of the most common misbeliefs about allergies, according to Romaneschi, is that they are most often caused by flowers.
“It really isn’t flowers. They have nectar that birds and bees drink and they carry the pollen from flower to flower. But trees produce tons of pollen that float in the air,” he said.
The most prevalent allergy-causing trees in the area are mountain cedars and cottonwoods, not pine trees that have the more visible yellow pollen, Romaneschi said.
“Pine-tree pollen is not a big allergen, but it does cause nasal irritation,” he said. “But that is what people see and what they think is causing them problems.”
After spring come the grasses from early to midsummer, Romaneschi said. Then in late summer and early fall, sage brush, Russian thistle and rabbit bush are what sends allergy sufferers into the doctor or pharmacy.
“That stays until the end of fall; then we get a little reprieve,” he said, adding that the severity can vary depending on how mild a winter it is.
Mold spores in the air are also allergens, which can come from both inside homes and out in the garden, he said.
“People who work in the garden are probably not getting allergies from flowers,” Romaneschi explained. “Wet soil in the summer gets warm and that stimulates mold growth.”
Romaneschi listed three “tiers” (levels) of warding off allergies and their symptoms. The first, he said, is allergen avoidance, which can be achieved by closing windows and doors or purchasing a High Efficiency Particulate Air filter. HEPA filters can cost from $120 for an automobile-rated product up to $1,300 for the highest quality. Keeping dogs and cats out of bedrooms can also prevent the spread of allergens. Molds can be avoided by checking for leaks both in and under the house and on the roof.
If that approach doesn’t work, the second tier is to actually treat the symptoms of allergies, he explained. Runny noses, water eyes and itchy throats, called allergic rhinitis, can be soothed with various products – prescription and nonprescription – available in pharmacies.
The third and most drastic tier is being injected with allergy desensitization shots, which is often done when someone has allergic asthma, a life-threatening condition that causes difficulty in breathing. These are usually given every week for the first year, every other week for the second year and every month the third year, stopping treatment after that, Romaneschi said.
Garnet Carlson, the pharmacy manager at Longs Drugs in South Lake Tahoe, said that recently he’s noticed an increase in the amount of people complaining of allergies coming into his store.
“It’s pretty much always allergy season in California,” said Carlson. “But this year we’re seeing a spike.”
Although a lot of people come into Longs with prescriptions in hand after visiting a doctor, Carlson said there are just as many who are seeking advice on how to treat allergies from a pharmacist.
“We’re doing a lot of over-the-counter counseling for people who don’t have prescriptions,” he said.
Both Carlson and Romaneschi recommend prescription and nonprescription drugs for the treatment of allergy symptoms. Non-sedating antihistamines such as Allegra and Zyrtec are available with a prescription, as well as a new, nonprescription form of Claritin. Depending on severity, a sedating antihistamine may be preferred, said Romaneschi. Prescription steroids work well in nasal spray form, said Carlson; however, they are also available to be taken orally or as shots, Romaneschi said.
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