Springtime is at our door and in the air... literally. Let's face it: Open windows are glorious, but not if seasonal allergies make you miserable. Dr. Jonathan Mozena, our friend at Allergy Partners, is here with the scoop on seasonal allergies and tips on reducing allergens at home so that you can make the most of the season.
1) Tell us a little about why Allergy Partners is so awesome for families.
All of the physicians at Allergy Partners are board-certified in allergy/immunology and see both children and adults. The ability to see patients of all ages allows us a unique vantage point to better understand the natural history and progression of conditions, such as environmental allergies, atopic dermatitis (eczema) and asthma. It is not unusual for us to see an infant, a patient in their 80s, and every age in between all in the same day. Most of our staff has been with us for years and has a tremendous amount of experience in both testing patients for allergies and asthma, as well as educating patients and their families about how to optimally manage their medical conditions.
2) What inspired you to become an allergist?
I was fascinated by how mistakes made by our immune system could result in such serious and debilitating medical conditions. Disturbances in the delicate balance of how our immune system interacts with our environment can result in a variety of problems. These problems are intellectually challenging to solve, but ultimately rewarding when I alleviate them for my patients. Over the past decade, a greater understanding of how our immune systems work has led to a renaissance in our field. This renaissance has resulted in an explosion in exciting new treatment options, which have been game-changers for folks suffering from certain forms of severe asthma, eczema and chronic hives. New research and innovations promise to further revolutionize how we treat, and ultimately prevent, many difficult problems that we manage.
3) What three things do you wish people knew about seasonal allergies?
Environmental allergies to things such as pollen or animal dander occur as a result of our immune systems mistakenly identifying them as dangerous and mounting an inflammatory response against them. Individuals with uncontrolled environmental allergies suffer from a disproportionate amount of ear infections (children), sinusitis and bronchitis. Airborne allergens can also play a significant role in driving asthma and eczema. This is a result of allergens causing inflammation as they are breathed into the lungs or come into contact with the skin.
4) Are allergy shots something you get every year like a flu shot? How do they work?
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) have been used to treat individuals with severe allergies since 1911. Allergy shots are currently approved to treat patients with severe environmental allergies (seasonal or year-round), stinging insect allergy, allergic asthma and for certain individuals with eczema for which environmental allergens are playing a significant role. Immunotherapy involves a person coming into an allergist's office 1-2x per week for the first several months. They are given increasing amounts of the allergens that they are allergic to, by injection under the skin.
Once the target dose is obtained, a person on allergy shots will come into the office every 2-4 weeks for a period of 3-5 years. In essence, immunotherapy "retrains" the immune system to tolerate those allergens. Improvement in allergy symptoms is usually noted within several months of starting treatment, which allows individuals to decrease the amount of medications that they need to take on a daily basis. The beneficial effects of immunotherapy will persist for several years after a course of immunotherapy has been completed which is why it is considered the treatment of choice for those with severe allergies.
5) What are three surprising tips for reducing allergens in your home?
Many individuals with year-round environmental allergies are reacting to dust mites. We actually become allergic to the feces of dust mites, not the mite itself. The feces become easily airborne when surfaces like carpets, pillows or mattresses are disturbed. Dust-mite encasements on pillowcases and mattresses can significantly decrease exposure to the dust-mite allergen.
The growth of dust mites and indoor molds can be contained through aggressive control of humidity. Dust mites lack mouths and absorb water through glands present on their legs. Humidity levels below 50% make it very difficult for dust mites and indoor molds to thrive.
Outdoor allergens become indoor allergens when we leave doors and windows open. It is important to regularly change the filters in your air-conditioning units. Additionally, indoor plants often harbor mold on their leaves and in the soil and can release spores which can affect susceptible individuals. Minimizing the number of indoor plants can help decrease allergen exposure for those individuals.
Want more allergy info or have questions for Dr. Mozena? You won't want to miss our Facebook-live interview this month! You never know what topic will come up. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.