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SPRINGING ON ALLERGIES
March 13, 2007
Connie Midey, The Arizona Republic
Sherry Queen squeezed out time in the midst of a recent job transfer to find an allergy specialist and schedule a series of appointments, buy air filters and antihistamines, and set up a humidifier in her new home.
"You do everything you can think of to get relief," she says. "It's worth the inconvenience to get some quality of life."
Paula Denis, another time-pressed businesswoman, is lining up allergy shots, has started a diary to make note of suspected allergens and keeps an epinephrine-filled EpiPen tucked in her purse for severe allergic reactions.
"The worst was when I felt like someone was standing on my chest," she says. "That was it for me. I knew I had to be very careful."
As the two Phoenix women know, living comfortably with allergies requires more than stocking up on Kleenex. And this spring - with rain-watered vegetation pollinating en masse after winter's unusually cold temperatures - promises to be especially demanding of sufferers' time-management and decision-making skills.
Is this a common cold or an allergic reaction? Should I start using my corticosteroid nasal spray now as a preventive measure? If I wait another week to see the doctor, will I end up with a sinus infection or ear infection or flare-up of my asthma?
Valley physician Suresh Anand of Allergy Associates & Lab, who started seeing patients with allergy symptoms in February, is braced for long workdays as spring's pollen-heavy air drives increasing numbers to seek answers.
"Patients come in, thinking they have a cold or upper respiratory illness," he says. "They get a cold every two or three weeks, treat it as a cold, then get another one. But the ordinary cold we get every year lasts for just six, seven, eight days. These are allergies."
With such disorders often triggering and resembling one another, patients' confusion doesn't surprise physician Laura Ispas-Ponas of the Sonoran Allergy and Asthma Center in Scottsdale. Sorting it out pays off, though.
Untreated, allergies become "one of those modern diseases for which we all pay a tremendous cost," she says, including medical complications such as upper respiratory infections.
Physician Mark Schubert of the Allergy Asthma Clinic, with offices in the Valley, served recently on an international panel that set research guidelines for rhinosinusitis (usually shortened to sinusitis).
Sinusitis, a set of chronic inflammatory disorders in the mucous membranes lining the inside of the nose and sinus cavities, can be triggered by allergies, he says. So can asthma.
Although both conditions can occur in the absence of allergies, as many as 80 percent of adults with chronic sinusitis also have allergies and as many as 75 percent of asthmatics also suffer from sinusitis, studies have found.
And, Schubert adds, more than half of kids with asthma also experience allergic reactions.
"Does this mean underlying allergy, if it's active and untreated, can lead to (any of these other diseases)? Probably, yes," he says, "but it's likely only if other underlying risk factors are present."
Denis, allergic as a child to various grasses, trees and plants, thought she had put worries about pollen behind her. Anand, her doctor, says Denis now appears to have oral allergy syndrome, or pollen-food allergy syndrome, caused by cross-reactions between certain pollens and their corresponding food allergens.
"More than 90 percent of people with food allergies are extremely allergic to pollens," Anand says, "but of a lot of them don't make the connection."
Someone allergic to birch pollen, for example, may experience reactions in the throat or mouth after eating carrots, celery, potato, apple, hazelnut or kiwi.
Denis is getting allergy shots to build her immunity to the suspected pollens, and she must avoid such foods as almonds, mustard, carrots and celery.
"Can you imagine?" she says. "That means I can't even eat something as basic as minestrone soup."
Queen thought moving from Gulfport, Miss., where post-Hurricane Katrina molds plagued her, would clear up her allergies and chronic sinusitis.
"But the new allergies to plants and grasses kicked in right away," she says. "Moving here just compounded the problem."
She's still hoping that living in the desert will help her avoid the sinus surgery she faced before leaving Mississippi.
"I found out I'm allergic to horses, too," Queen says. "Not that I'm around horses, but now that I'm in the West, I thought I might like to go riding."
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