Allergies can be lifelong problems for some

Published: Saturday, April 14 2012 3:01 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The majority of people suffering with allergies either put up with it through the duration of the season, or treat their symptoms with over-the-counter medications. Self-treatment is OK, but not entirely necessary, according to doctors.

"This is a disease that is uncomfortable and very debilitating, but also very episodic," said Dr. Craig Moffat, an allergist at Intermountain Healthcare's Alta View Hospital and the Intermountain Sandy Clinic. He said people generally only seek treatment when symptoms are particularly bad or bothersome.

Utah is nearing the end of a particularly bad bout with high tree pollen counts and entering into the grass pollen season, which will continue through July. At that time, weed pollens will kick up.

A recent rain storm dramatically reduced pollen counts, putting many allergy symptoms on the back burner for the time being.

Moffat and Dr. Charles Rogers, an allergist at Allergy Associates of Utah and the Intermountain Medical Center, provided medical recommendations to several who called, or posted questions online during the monthly Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline Saturday.

While allergies can't necessarily be cured, Moffat said there are some excellent treatment options available. The prevalence of seasonal allergies, as well as other food, skin and respiratory sensitivities, leads to increased interest from researchers and ongoing studies, with new treatments and procedures ever on the horizon.

More than 25 percent of all Americans suffer from some kind of seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. Five to 7 percent suffer with asthma, which is exacerbated by allergies, and 15 to 20 percent of babies and children have eczema. Food allergies affect 3 to 4 percent of children and those numbers are on the rise, Moffat said.

"Peanut allergy can be potentially life-threatening" and should be taken seriously, Rogers said. At-risk individuals might have a predisposed genetic makeup for various sensitivities, including to peanuts. Peanuts eaten during pregnancy or breastfeeding can impact a child's susceptibility, however, it is unknown why many allergies surface when they do.

Most allergies appear in young children, but some, including those for tree nuts, shellfish and other fish, can be acquired later in life, Moffat said. He said egg and milk allergies typically taper off after several years, but peanut allergies continue through most people's lives.

Overall, doctors suggest avoidance measures as the first line of treatment, however many things, like air, cannot be avoided and so medications come into play. A variety of useful OTC and prescription medications are available to suppress symptoms, and for the lingering discomfort, allergy shots can be very helpful. Shots, though, can't help skin and food allergies.

The health hotline is offered to readers through a partnership between Intermountain Healthcare and the Deseret News. It covers a different health topic the second Saturday of each month.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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