Woodward, Okla. —
Have you been sniffling or sneezing lately and wondering why?
It may be allergies.
While many may associate allergies primarily with spring, Dr. Tim Kaiser said allergies can be a problem anytime in the year.
"I see it all year round," said Kaiser who is an allergist and otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat surgeon with ENT of Oklahoma, which has offices throughout Western Oklahoma.
"It just depends on what you're allergic to, when symptoms may be worse," he said. "If you're more allergic to fall-blooming weeds then that time of year will be worse for you. But if you're more allergic to grass blooming, then you'll have more problems in spring."
Still others may suffer from different types of allergies that have no set season, he said.
"If you're allergic to household dust, dust mites and mold, then it can be all year round," Kaiser said.
He said this year in particular has been difficult for many plant allergy sufferers because "we've had a fairly we year and lots of warm, but not terribly hot weather, and that gets the plants growing."
And currently many people may be suffering because "there's lots and lots and lots of weeds blooming in the last couple of weeks," he said.
3 TREATMENT OPTIONS
For those looking for some allergy relief, Kaiser said there are 3 general ways to treat allergies.
"The first is environmental control," he said.
This means managing the environment that you live in so that you protect yourself from potential allergens.
"This sounds good but I'm not sure how you can really manage it if you ever go outside, especially here in Oklahoma," Kaiser said.
While total environmental control may not be possible, the doctor said there are still ways to improve your environment, such as "using an air filter in the room you sleep in at night."
Even something as simple as taking a shower can help provide some relief.
"The first thing I tell people if they're having a lot of trouble is to get into the shower because the more of that stuff (allergens) they wash off of them, the better they'll feel. It's another form of environmental control and it usually works pretty well."
The second way to treat allergies is through medication, "this includes both prescription and over the counter medicine," Kaiser said.
The third allergy treatment option is immunotherapy, he said, describing it as "a way to desensitize you to the things you're sensitive to. It helps change your immune system so you're not as sensitive to certain allergens."
There are 2 main immunotherapy methods: 1) weekly shots administered by your physician, or 2) drops under your tongue, which can be administered at home.
Kaiser said any of the treatment options could be potentially effective in providing allergy relief, depending on your level of allergies.
"Environmental control is something that everybody can try," he said. "And they can try over the counter antihistamines, which are good if they work. And if they don't then people come see me (for immunotherapy treatment)."
IMMUNOTHERAPY EFFECTIVE BUT EXPENSIVE
He said immunotherapy is somewhat of a last resort for allergy suffers who can't get relief any other way.
"Usually people try to manage on their own," he said, noting "Typically when I see a patient, they've already taken multiple medications without any really working."
Immunotherapy is also for those with more severe or frequent allergy problems.
"If they only have symptoms for a month or 2 out of the year then they might never go to a doctor, but if their symptoms last longer or are more significant then that's when they end up at their physician's office," Kaiser said.
The good thing though is that immunotherapy is effective, he said.
"Shots are the gold standard for immunotherapy because they work very well," Kaiser said. "And you don't have to remember to take anything, but you do have to go to the doctor's office to get your shot once a week."
As an alternative, he said, "the nice thing about the drops under the tongue is that you don't have to go to the doctor's office, you can take them at home."
Initially, he said you take the drops once a day for the first few days and then once a week. "But you just have to remember to take them," he said.
However, another benefit to the drops, Kaiser said is "there's never been a reported significant reaction to the drops. There's the rare reaction to the shots, but none have ever been reported with the drops."
Whether a patient chooses the shots or the drops, Kaiser said the immunotherapy treatment period continues several months.
"Usually a year or 2 is usually sufficient for most people," he said.
Partly due to the length of the treatment period as well as other factors, Kaiser said that immunotherapy is "probably the most expensive option" for treating allergies.
But it may be worth the expense for those for whom environmental control or medications are not effective enough, he said.
TESTING CAN HELP CONFIRM ALLERGIES
In addition to coming to otolaryngologists like him for immunotherapy treatments, Kaiser said patients will also come to determine whether or not their problems are caused by allergies or some other illness.
When it comes to telling the difference between allergies and the common cold, Kaiser said "that's sometimes hard to do."
"The symptoms can be very similar," he said.
In addition to sneezing, he said a patient "could have a dry cough with no other symptoms or they could have itchy eyes, runny nose, itchy roof of their mouth, and itchy ears and experience any one or all of them at one time."
In some cases, he said, "they could get skin rashes, which is common in kids."
So when it comes to verifying whether a patient is suffering from allergies, Kaiser said, "That's what allergy tests are for."
He explained that he can either analyze a blood sample or perform a skin test to determine what patients are allergic to and the severity of their allergies.
This then helps him determine the best treatment options for that particular patient.
If you would like more information about allergy testing or immunotherapy treatment, you can contact ENT of Oklahoma's Lawton office at (580) 531-0022.
"Or they can call the hospital in Woodward and ask for the specialty clinic," Kaiser said. The main number to Woodward Regional Hospital is (580) 256-5511.
In addition to the Lawton office, Kaiser said he and his partner at ENT of Oklahoma have offices in Altus, Mangum, Elk City and Woodward.
"I'm in Woodward every other Tuesday or more often as needed," he said.