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Achoo! Yes … it’s that time of year

Allergy sufferers in Chicago have it bad this year, as allergen counts are up and the season is lasting longer. Dr. Adam LeVay gives advice on how to stop the sniffles.
Kate Silver
Contributing writer

When it comes to allergies in Chicago, this season is indeed something to sneeze at. Dr. Adam LeVay, an otolaryngologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital, said it’s one of the worst allergy seasons on record, thanks to a thick prevalence of pollen, ragweed and other airborne allergens.

“This has been one of the worst allergy seasons that Chicago’s had in a long time,” he said. “People who might only be mild sufferers seasonally have been coming in with a lot of nasal congestion, headaches, itchy eyes and sneezing.”

In addition, allergy season across the country is now lasting longer, making it seem even more severe. Allergy experts have attributed the lengthened season to heavy rains and flooding causing increased pollen and mold, as well as warmer weather allowing trees to pollinate longer than usual. Allergy season in Chicago typically lasts from April through October.

An allergy is a response by the immune system against something it thinks shouldn’t be there, said LeVay, so it’s trying to alert the body that it’s been exposed to something that’s potentially harmful.

The result, whether it’s a sneeze or a runny nose, is the body’s attempt to flush the irritant from its system.

“The response can vary from annoying nasal symptoms to quite a severe, life threatening reaction where the airways swell and people have difficulty breathing. That can be extremely dangerous,” he said.

LeVay said the first step chronic allergy sufferers should take is to make an appointment for a comprehensive allergy evaluation. Through skin tests, an allergist can pinpoint what’s causing the body distress.

Once the doctor determines the allergens, you can work to avoid those allergens. When that’s not possible, the physician can suggest medications, including antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays, to help alleviate symptoms.

And then there are allergy shots. According to LeVay, shots are the way to go.

“They’re by far the most effective treatment,” he said. “But some people shy away from them because it is a commitment.”

Usually, the shots are given once a week for six months, and then taper off gradually after that. Still, that tapering off can go on for two years.

Whether you choose to stock up on over-the-counter medications or just avoid what’s making you sneeze, LeVay emphasized that it’s important to see a doctor.

“Sino-nasal allergies rarely are an isolated incident,” he said. Often, the allergy sufferer will be predisposed to chronic nasal blockages and sinus infections, as well. “The trigger might be the allergy, but typically it’s not the only thing making a person miserable.”

Top allergies
We asked Dr. Adam LeVay to name the top five allergy causers he sees in patients. He shared the following:
1. Mold
2. Dust
3. Grasses
4. Pets
5. Cockroaches