Dr. Grace Chiang, an allergist at WellStar Smyrna, said the ragweed and other weeds top the list for fall allergies. Symptoms include itching, watery eyes and congestion. While a cold can last for a few days, Dr. Chiang said if symptoms linger beyond that time then allergies could be the culprit.
“Typically your symptoms will be related to exposure to the pollen, so it may go on for weeks or even months, as long as the pollen counts are elevated,” she said. “Whereas with a cold, a virus will cause you to be sick for seven to 10 days.”
Seasonal allergies can be detected in children starting at age 3. Skin tests can identify allergies to different types of pollen, pet dander, mold and more. Dr. Chiang said this method is the most accurate to identify allergic triggers.
“What that involves is pricking the skin to look for a red itchy wheel that usually develops in 15 minutes,” she said. “The nice thing about skin testing is since we have the results after 15 minutes, we are able to review them. Together we develop an individualized treatment plan.”
The plan includes avoidance, medicine and immunotherapy. Dr. Chiang said avoidance to certain allergies cannot always be controlled, but immunotherapy is the closest treatment to a cure for allergies.
“It’s the only one treatment that changes the body’s the immune system,” she said. “The immunotherapy involves giving the patient things they are allergic. It’s similar to a vaccine. We start with a low dose and then we gradually increase it. It really helps to reduce your symptoms and your need for medication in the long term.”
These shots are designed to target the specific allergy or allergies that affect the patient. Over the course of three to five years, the shots will reduce the body’s reactivity.
Asthma and allergies also have a link. Dr. Chiang said, “Ragweed season can also trigger a lot of people’s asthma. Lots of kids and adults might be experiencing more asthma symptoms during this time of year, and it could be they are allergic to ragweed. It’s beneficial to see an allergist and develop a plan to keep allergies and asthma under control.”
Her recommendations for reducing risk include keeping windows closed at home and in the car, showering at night (to rinse off pollen) and changing clothes before bed, and keeping pets out of the bedroom.
Stacey Tripp has always been allergic to cats and dogs but developed allergies to grass nearly six years ago. Although she has a dog, Tripp was able to control her allergies through avoidance of cats (the worse allergy) and taking an antihistamine. However, when she moved to Mableton in 2007, she said her dog began to spend more time in the yard.
“When she would come in, I would react more than usual with itching, watery eyes and even some red bumps on my arms after I played with her,” she said. “I thought it was just her, but after going to Dr. Chiang, I realized it was the grass as well that she was rolling around in that I was reacting to as well.”
After seeing Dr. Chiang in July, Tripp takes weekly shots to build up resistance and takes Singulair, Zyrtec and Flonase to help with daily maintenance. She continues to take precaution at home and encourages others to do the same.
“The weather is getting nice, but leaving your windows open can sometimes make your allergies flare up,” she said. “If you’re spending a lot of time outside; when you come in, make sure you are washing your hands off or even taking a shower to get some of the pollen and ragweed off so that you don’t have any flare-ups.”
Another Mableton resident, Tena Sarabia, has a son who suffers from season allergies to grass and trees. She said Miguel, 6½, began to have a constant runny nose and sinus infections starting two years ago. After a visit with Dr. Chiang a year ago, Miguel began immunotherapy. He now takes allergy shots which vary from once weekly to once every two weeks. Sarabia said it’s been a huge improvement.
“He no longer has a runny nose,” Sarabia said. “He might get stuffy, but it comes and goes. It’s not chronic at all.”
She had concerns about Miguel playing soccer and allergy flare-ups but took the doctor’s advice.
“Our doctor told us , “Do not let the allergies (or asthma for my older son, Diego, 8) control you. You need to control it so they can do all those things they want to do and let them be a kid,’” Sarabia recalls. “(My husband, Jaime, and I) learned a lot through the process.” She said Miguel now plays “every sport imaginable.”
She encourages people who suspect they might have seasonal allergies to seek the advice of a professional.
“Definitely get medical help. It really has made a huge difference for us,” she said. “It really works.”