East Tennessee allergy sufferers sniff through tough stretch

Apr. 26, 2014 @ 11:40 PM

Everywhere you look, spring is in full swing. The grass is green, trees and flowering plants are blooming, and, over the last few days at least, there’s been a thin yellow film on almost every outdoor surface.

For allergy sufferers, it’s among the worst times of the year.

“This is our busy time of the year,” said Dr. Karthik Krishnan, an allergist with the Sevierville office of the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center. “We’ve had extremely high pollen counts here the last several weeks, and that definitely has made it worse for allergy sufferers.”

Weather.com’s PollenCast indicates “very high” tree pollen counts on four of the last seven reported days. In fact, every day since April 3 has recorded at least a score of “high” on the site’s scale of measurement.

And staying away from that pollen is nearly impossible.

“Avoidance is pretty tough, because pollen is everywhere,” Krishnan, who also serves as president of the Tennessee Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said. “If your symptoms are really bad, stay indoors as much as possible.

“If you’re in your car, keep the windows up to try to minimize exposure to the pollen as much as possible.”

For the past several years, the Knoxville area has ranked among the worst cities for allergy sufferers, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. Knoxville topped out as the worst nationally in 2010. This year it slid from last year’s number-two ranking to 16.

Still, allergy symptoms are among the chief complaints at doctor’s offices around East Tennessee right now.

It’s hardly a surprise.

With its warm climate, adequate rain supply and the large number of plants that thrive in the state, Tennessee is always among the most-represented states on the worst-allergy lists.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies include runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose, itchy watery eyes and nasal congestion.

Those exposed to spring’s allergic agents have several options.

“If you’ve been out at a ball field or whatever, take a shower to clean off all the pollen,” Krishnan said. 

“Then there are secondary options — there are definitely over-the-county medicines that you can use,” he said, including Nasacort, a nasal spray which recently received FDA approval to be sold without a prescription.

“That, typically, is the single best method to get symptoms under control,” Krishnan said, adding that Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are popular antihistamine treatments taken orally, often in pill form.

“A combination of the antihistamine with the nose spray is a good starting spot (for treatment),” he said.

The only long term treatment is achieved through visiting a specialist.

“The most effective treatment is allergy shots,” Krishnan said. “That’s the only option we have that can get rid of or ‘cure’ allergies. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a 3-5 year plan that can eliminate (allergic reactions), and you don’t have to rely on medicine to control your symptom.”

If patients only have mild symptoms and can keep their allergies under control with avoidance and over-the-counter treatment, visiting a specialist is not necessary, Krishnan said.

“(But) if you get to the point where it’s interfering with school or work, your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, or you’re just miserable, that’s when you probably need a higher level of care and to see a specialist,” he said.