MARSHALL - An early spring brings warm weather and sunny days to the area, but to some unfortunate allergy sufferers it brings itching, sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes as well.
Amy Ellingson M.D. is an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Speciality Clinic in Willmar. Ellingson also comes to Marshall twice a month. The Independent this week asked Ellingson to explain the basics of allergies and allergy treatments.
Ellingson cautioned that each question would require a book or more to answer completely, but agreed to give a brief summary in layman's terms.
Q: What is an allergy?
A: Basically it's an immune system response to anything in our environment. A hyper-response to something airborne such as ragweed or dust mites; something ingested in food, or medication.
Q: Why are some people allergic and others aren't?
A: That's the $1 million question. It's thought there are genetic risk factors. A lot of the allergy cells in the old days were triggered to fight parasites. Today in our hyper-clean environment some people have more than others for some reasons. There is really no definite answer.
Q: Why are people allergic to specific things?
A: An allergic response is a very specific response. If it's something like ragweed pollen for example there is a lock-and-key effect where the body's response is triggered by that specific stimulus. To find the specific allergen we have to do a percutaneous prick test on the skin.
Q: Do allergies ever go away?
A: That depends on the type we're talking about. Among young children with milk and egg allergies it may go away as they get older. Peanut allergies or nasal allergies, the majority of the time, no.
Q: Can allergies show up later in life?
A: Yes. I have people walking into the clinic that never had allergies before. Possibly there was a hormonal shift, or an infection, or they've moved from somewhere else.
Q: Are specific allergies hereditary?
A: Not specific allergies, but a general tendency to allergies. Say a parent is allergic to cats, that's not going to be passed on from generation to generation. But it may show up in a different allergy or asthma.
Q: What are the most common allergens in this area?
A: Seasonally some of the tree pollens: oaks cottonwood, box elder, maple, birch, the common trees. They pollenate right around now. Grass pollen is another common one which normally comes May to June, but with the early spring I'd say in a week or so. Weed allergies kick in around the second week of August to the freeze. And because we're such a farming community there are issues with mold.
Q: Can most allergies be controlled with over-the-counter medications?
A: It depends on the degree and severity of the symptoms and how long they last. But itching, sneezing, running nose, watery eyes can often be controlled with an anti-inflammatory or an allergy shot. But if not controlled it can lead to recurring ear and sinus infections or asthma. For asthma you should not rely on over-the-counter medication.