Health & Medicine

Ahh-choo! Spring allergies in Ky. often need tackling by a pro

Georgetown Community Hospital.  Gerogetown, KY.   5-22-09.  Photo by Bill Straus.  Copyright 2009.
Georgetown Community Hospital. Gerogetown, KY. 5-22-09. Photo by Bill Straus. Copyright 2009.

Chances are that familiar feeling is creeping in. A tickle in your throat. A sniffle. A sneeze. It's officially spring, and for many in Kentucky this means an onslaught of allergy symptoms.

Kentucky consistently ranks among the worst areas in the country for allergy sufferers. While over-the-counter medications can sometimes help alleviate minor symptoms, a medical consultation is often the best course when symptoms begin to interfere with daily life.

How do you know when your symptoms are a sign of something more serious?

Allergy sufferers commonly complain of sneezing, stuffiness, runny or itchy nose/eyes, and sinus infections. But there are many common symptoms that people may not attribute to springtime allergies.

Patients with chronic sinus infections might have been given antibiotics, albeit unsuccessfully, only to uncover that the root cause was allergies, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. Allergies can lead to sinus blockage and an ensuing infection.

Patients may also experience issues with their ears — often complaining of a "plugged" feeling, muffled hearing or the need to "pop" the ears. A patient's head may feel full. Soreness, cough, voice changes or postnasal drainage are all symptoms that may appear in the throat. Often these symptoms are not attributed to an allergic reaction. Patients can fail to consider that the ear, nose and throat are all intricately connected.

Non-allergic triggers, including smoke, strong odors or fumes, temperature changes and other irritants, can cause similar symptoms to an allergic reaction.

A visit to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT), also known as an otolaryngologist, may be best for allergy suffers. A doctor who is well versed in the region above the neck will be able to determine if allergies are the culprit or, in some cases, if there is another issue.

Some patients may have symptoms that become severe enough to disrupt their daily lives. In these cases, they should seek medical advice.

With many allergies, avoidance is a key strategy. For those allergic to cats, simply staying away from them will help remedy the issue. The same goes for food allergies. But some allergies, like molds, trees and pollens, cannot be avoided and require medical treatment.

Immunotherapy (allergy shot therapy) is an effective method for long-term symptom relief. Allergy shots change the way a person's immune system deals with allergens, becoming less reactive to them over time.

Symptoms of face pain and pressure, fever, headache, fluid in the ears or hearing loss may require consultation with a physician.

For issues beyond allergies, surgery is sometimes the needed course of action; however, many issues can be treated with a combination of medications. ENT doctors commonly work with audiologists, speech therapists, allergy nurses and other therapists in a team approach to tackle a problem from many angles.

An otolaryngologist may offer "one stop shopping" to evaluate all facets of complaints. Sorting through symptoms and attributing them to the right cause is key.