Do you have the symptoms? Runny nose. Coughing. Sneezing. Itchy eyes. The disgusting feeling that your brain may be swimming in a pool of mucus. Just this month, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America released its annual fall allergy report, which ranked Salt Lake City as No. 58 on a list of the 100 worst cities for people affected by airborne allergens this season. That's an increase over last year, when the city ranked at 63.
The biggest culprit? Weed pollens, according to Intermountain Allergy and Asthma, the only certified pollen counting station in Utah.
The good news is cold weather is fast approaching. Utah's allergy season typically lasts from early March until the first hard frost in late September or October.
But there's still a range of information (from conventional medication to more holistic therapies) that might help you manage your symptoms now and in future seasons.
For Betty Williams, a Salt Lake-based tax accountant, traditional asthma and allergy medications helped her to manage symptoms that became strongly pronounced this July. She has always suffered from seasonal allergies, but this spring, she began waking up in the middle of the night with trouble breathing.
Williams set up an appointment with Dr. Charles Rogers, an allergist and owner of Allergy Associates of Utah, and learned her lung function was 43 percent of normal. A week later, during a follow-up visit, her lung function was measured at 90 percent, and Williams said she felt her energy levels increase dramatically.
"The tricky thing for me is that I thought how I felt was normal for me," Williams said during a July interview. "I hadn't done much with (my symptoms), but now I will because the difference in the last couple days with these things I'm amazed. The increase in my energy level is like 10-fold compared to where I was a week ago."
Rogers said he believes there are three key ways a person can manage their allergies: reduce exposure to allergens, try various medications or be treated with allergy shots.
When he first meets with a patient, Rogers said he will ask for a detailed medical history and description of symptoms. The people he suspects have allergies are given a test where their skin is pricked with various allergens to see what they react to.
A lung function test is given to patients who might have asthma, and after testing, a treatment plan is outlined.
For people who are reticent to take allergy medications or get shots, Dr. Gregory Wickern with Intermountain Allergy and Asthma recommends they avoid exposure to allergens as much as possible.
Pollen counts are lower in the mornings, so he recommends people travel outdoors early in the day, rather than later. If a person is not self-conscious, they could wear a mask when traveling outdoors, according to Wickern.
Other avoidance strategies include showering before bedtime and keeping the windows closed. If a person is allergic to animals, avoiding those animals is good practice, Wickern said.
From his perspective, what people are allergic to, and when they develop symptoms, is something that is genetically encoded. Some people have higher tolerances for allergens than other, and don't exhibit symptoms until later in life, he said.
Signs of allergies include itching eyes and skin or a runny nose. Signs of asthma include coughing, but not always a wheeze, according to Wickern.
Earlier this year, Michelle Hofmann's 4-year-old son began to develop asthma. He would get tired and struggle breathing while doing things such as running to the end of the block with his father.
Hofmann said her struggle is to try and avoid things that cause her son's symptoms, but to also allow him to be a normal child.
"It's hard to keep a 4-year-old inside all of the day in the summer," said Hofmann, a physician at Primary Children's and co-founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air. "I feel fortunate that I understand how to treat it and I can understand the symptoms, but I have to say, I was seriously bummed when we found out. I feel bad for him."
From her position, poor air quality is something associated with her son's asthma.
Other physicians believe diet, environmental toxins and the general emotional well-being of a person can contribute to allergies and asthma. Their approach is to treat a person with herbs, vitamins and other natural remedies such as a change in diet, but it's not recommended by conventional medical doctors as something that works.
Dr. Todd Cameron, a naturopathic physician in Sugar House, said he believes there are fundamental things a person can do to treat any aliment, starting with an assessment of mental and emotional well-being, nutrition and hormonal balancing. With allergies, he encourages a person to thoroughly clean their house and then try and diminish the level of their allergic response.
Some remedies he uses include increasing a person's level of vitamin C. He also asks people to eliminate pasteurized dairy products from their diet to see if it helps.
"What we do know is that by following the yellow brick road and decreasing load exposure (to allergens and toxins), how could a person not get better," Dr. Cameron said. "Whether you're 9 or 90, you can always improve your situation from where you are now."
Like Cameron, Dr. Uli Knorr, a naturopathic physician in Salt Lake City, treats allergy patients by looking at their diet and nutrition. He is a proponent of eating organic foods with fewer preservatives and less sugar."An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Knorr said, quoting the famous phrase by Benjamin Franklin. "A lot of research done on chronic diseases points to nutrition and exercise and lifestyle."
How to reduce your allergic response
Because Utah is at a high elevation with dry temperatures, most physicians agree the state doesn't have as much a problem with dust mites as other states. Still, Dr. Todd Cameron, a naturopathic physician in Sugar House, says it doesn't hurt to buy an allergenic pillow or encase your mattress in a plastic sheet as a filter between you and the dust mites.
Other suggestions to reduce your response to airborne allergens include keeping windows and doors shut, avoiding use of a swamp cooler, changing clothes when you're outside and limiting your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high.
Dr. Charles Rogers advises people to be careful when considering a product touted as something to eliminate allergies.
• Hay fever is believed to affect 20 percent of American adults and 40 percent of children
• Allergy shots are usually successful in up to 90 percent of patients with seasonal allergies.
• Allergies and asthma are two of the leading causes of absence from work in the United States.
• More than half of U.S. citizens test positive for one or more allergens.
• Twelve million Americans suffer from food allergies.
SOURCES: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, National Jewish Health