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Month: August 2015

A Spike in Allergy Symptoms in the Autumn?

As we enter into the ragweed season, some of us with seasonal allergies may experience a flare-up of symptoms.

Ragweed is one of the several weeds that pollinate in late Summer and the early Fall.  Seventeen different species of ragweed grow in the United States.  Common ragweed grows up to five feet tall.  It has hairy stems and light green leaves, up to four inches long.  Ragweed grows in fields, gardens, and along roadsides.  It is an annual plant, which means it only lives for one season.

Ragweed flowers are yellowish-green in color and small in size.  They grow in clusters of up to six inches long near the top of the plant.  Ragweed flowers produce large amounts of pollen. The pollen is transferred from one plant to another by the wind as well as insects.

Ragweed allergy occurs when an individual’s immune system produces a forceful response to a foreign substance (i.e., ragweed pollen) that is actually harmless in most circumstances.  As a result, the individual experiences hay fever (allergic rhinitis)allergic conjunctivitis, and/or asthmasymptoms (see below).

Certain cells of the body begin releasing antibodies to proteins in the ragweed pollen.  This results in the production of several chemicals (e.g., histamine) that cause these allergy symptoms.  Some individuals with ragweed allergy may also get local itching of the mouth and throat areas when they eat fresh melons, bananas, kiwi, cucumbers, zucchini, and/or avocados.  This condition is called oral allergy syndrome, which is also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome.

Each ragweed plant can release approximately one billion grains of ragweed pollen in one ragweed season.  The grains are so light that the wind easily carries them into the air where individuals inhale the grains.  The result is that these individuals may become sensitized and allergic to the ragweed pollen.  The pollen travels very far by the wind and pollen has been detected hundreds of miles away.  Some studies suggest that rising temperatures and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are extending the ragweed season.  In Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, ragweed begins to pollinate in mid-August, peaks after the Labor Day weekend in September, and lasts until the end of October when the first frost ultimately kills the plant.

What are the Symptoms?

The allergic reaction to all plants that produce pollen is commonly known as hay fever (allergic rhinitis).  Symptoms can include itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, puffy eyes, itchy nose, runny nose, stuffy nose, post-nasal drip, itchy throat, and sneezing.  In those with severe allergies, asthma symptoms (i.e., wheezing, shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness), sinusitis, headaches, fatigue, and impaired sleep may also occur.

What Methods of Prevention are Recommended?

A few simple suggestions can dramatically diminish one’s exposure to pollen:

  • It is preferable to stay inside when the pollen counts are at their highest.  In the Washington, DC area, this is in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon.  One can track the pollen count in our area by clicking Today’s Pollen Count at the top of our website.
  • After being outdoors, change your clothes after returning indoors and take a shower to remove the pollen.  Do not hang clothes outdoors to dry, as the pollen will collect on them.  Use a clothes dryer instead.
  • Keep the windows closed in your car and home.   Turn on the air conditioner.  Make sure to change the air filters every 1-2 months.
  • Shower before bed to remove pollen, especially from your face and hair.
  • Use HEPA air filters in your home.

Diagnosing and Treating Ragweed Allergies:
When avoidance and prevention do not work, try over-the-counter medications.  If symptoms continue, or complications arise, it may be time to seek the advice of a physician.  The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy treat both adults and children with ragweed allergies and have done so for more than fifty years.  A thorough history and physical examination will be performed and allergy skin testing and/or allergy blood testing can be done in order to diagnose your condition.  Once a diagnosis of ragweed allergy is established, there are a multitude of medications available by prescription that can be tried in order to help alleviate your symptoms.  These medications come in the form of pills, capsules, syrups, powders, nasal sprays, eye drops, and inhalers.  Allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy, allergy injections) are an extremely effective means to treat not only ragweed allergy, but allergies (i.e., allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, allergic asthma) in general.  They work in approximately 80-85% of individuals, but take about 4-6 months before they are effective for most individuals.  They have been around for over 100 years and can be given in children, adults, pregnant women, and the elderly with great success.

Black and Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient office locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, Virginia (Tysons Corner, Virginia), and Manassas, Virginia.  The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and all 3 locations offer on-site parking.  The allergists and staff at Black and Kletz Allergy will gladly answer any of your questions or concerns. We strive to offer individualized treatment plans in order to alleviate your unwanted allergy symptoms in a caring and professional setting.

Can Clogged Ears be Caused by Allergies?

The simple answer to this question is yes.

Eustachian tube dysfunction is a condition where the the eustachian tubes of the middle ear do not open and close the correct way.  The eustachian tubes are small tubes that go from the middle ear (the part of the ear behind the eardrum) to the back of the throat.  There is one eustachian tube for each ear.  The eustachian tubes are about 1 1/2 inches long and regulate the air pressure between the middle ear and the atmosphere outside the ear.  The eustachian tubes also serve the purpose of draining fluid and mucus from the middle ear.  Normally, the tubes are closed.  When there is an increase in atmospheric pressure ( e.g., high altitudes, deep water) people typically will intentionally swallow, yawn, or chew gum in order to force the eustachian tube open which will cause an equalization in pressure.  If someone is unable to equalize this pressure difference, one may experience ear pain, a clogged or blocked feeling of the ears, decreased hearing, ringing of the ears (tinnitus), a fullness of the ears, popping of the ears, and/or dizziness.

There are a variety of causes of eustachian tube dysfunction.  Swelling of the eustachian tubes can occur due to allergies (i.e., allergic rhinitis, hay fever)upper respiratory infections (URI’s), and sinus infections.  The swelling causes the tubes to stay closed, preventing them from opening with the normal everyday functions such as swallowing and yawning.  As a result, a pressure difference occurs between the middle ear and the outside atmospheric pressure causing the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction to develop.  One may complain of ears that are painful, blocked, full, popping, etc.  Fluid may also collect in the middle ear which can further increase one’s symptoms.  In addition, the fluid can get infected which will often lead to ear infections (otitis media).  Note that the length of the eustachian tubes is shorter, and thus more easily blocked, in children than in adults, predisposing them to a higher risk of ear infections; this is a reason to see a pediatric allergist here in McLean, Manassas or Washington, DC as soon as possible. /2015/08/04/can-clogged-ears-be-caused-by-allergies/ /2015/08/04/can-clogged-ears-be-caused-by-allergies/ /2015/08/04/can-clogged-ears-be-caused-by-allergies/ Cigarette smoking, enlarged adenoids, and obesity are other factors that can predispose and/or cause eustachian tube dysfunction.

As mentioned above, allergies play an important role in causing eustachian tube dysfunction.  Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is a condition where there is inflammation and swelling in the nasal and sinus regions due to an allergen such as pollen, dust mites, molds, and animals.  It is the swelling component of this allergic condition which contributes to the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating children and adults with “clogged ears” for over 50 years in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  Diagnosing and treating the underlying condition, which often is due to allergies, is the primary way to alleviate the “clogged ears.”  There are numerous allergy medications (i.e., decongestants, nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamines), as well as allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots) that can be utilized in order to treat and/or prevent “clogged ears.”  If you suffer from these symptoms or other allergy symptoms, please call any one of our 3 convenient office locations in the DC metro area.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA, (Tyson’s Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  All 3 offices have on-site parking and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are Metro accessible.  You can also click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy is dedicated to help you get relief from your allergy symptoms in a caring professional environment.