Agonies of allergies
If you’re struggling with allergies you’re not alone.
By September 5 1,912 4
For Devra Ferst, returning to New York City cost her – but not in the way you might think.
A year in Israel, where the air is dry, had gone a long way toward clearing up the allergies she had been fighting for most of her life.
It changed her life in some ways.
“It was the first time I could go running and not have any breathing problems,” she remembered. “I didn’t get sick at all when I lived in Israel.”
But now, back in New York, living in Brooklyn is an older building, her battle with mold has resumed, and so have her trips to an allergist.
“I go in once a week, and it’s three shots every week,” Ferst, 27, said of her life since she returned to the big city. “I am never, ever without a tissue in my pocket.”
She is hardly alone. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says some 50 million Americans suffer from allergies of all types, and about 40 million of that number are seasonal and nasal conditions. The foundation says allergy is the fifth leading chronic disease in the United States.
Some people are more susceptible to spring allergies, when tree pollen abounds, and some fall prey to fall allergies, when ragweed is the main culprit.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology says global warming may be making things even worse.
Pollination starts earlier in the spring, says the academy.
“Fall allergies, primarily caused by ragweed, are also getting worse because ragweed grows faster and produces more pollen per plant,’ the academy says.
If you live in the United States, ragweed is tough to get away from – it grows virtually everywhere. Indeed, there are 17 types of it growing in the United States. You know that goldenrod that looks so pretty in the field? Ragweed. Other types can sneakily grow amid the grass.
If that’s not enough, you can find ragweed on riverbanks and along the side of highways.
Ferst’s issue is with mold, which she believes to be a product of the older buildings in New York. Experts say mold is a fungus that is most often found in musty, damp areas.
“My main allergy is to mold,” she says, “so in New York that means year round.”
Damp basements, bathrooms and some kinds of building materials are places where mold can thrive.
Even those with fall ragweed problems are seeing the season of their agony extended. In the past, they could typically begin feeling symptoms as summer was about to come to a close in mid-August, and continue for about six weeks.
Nowadays, though, ragweed allergy can begin earlier and last longer because of climate change.
The result for allergy suffers can include coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and scratchy throat.
Take the case of New Jersey resident Erick Fisco, 24, a graduate student who, like Ferst, has been suffering with allergies since the age of 8. In his case, it’s both spring and fall.
‘It’s kind of like transitional seasons when all the plants are blooming, or start dying,” he says.
He sneezes, by his account loudly and in bunches, his nose runs, his eyes get itchy and his throat can get scratchy.
Still, after years of getting allergy shots from a doctor, these days he’s relying on an over-the-counter antihistamine, which seems to keep his allergy at bay. In between, he even tried acupuncture, which he said was ineffective.
“Everyone who knows me is so used to it,” he says of his condition, “but it can be a little awkward at first when I’m in a new setting.”
“My nose definitely runs a lot and it’s not like appropriate to blow my nose at a dinner table, so I usually slip away to a bathroom if I really have to,” he says.
The bad news for allergy sufferers is that there is really no cure.
Instead, professionals attempt to manage the symptoms, which Ferst says her doctor in New York has done successfully.
“I am incredibly grateful to my allergist,” Ferst says, explaining that she stops by her doctor’s office each Friday morning to get her weekly dose of three shots in the arm.
Side effects? “The only thing you notice is sometimes your arm is a little sore from three shots.”
Ferst made the move that many recommend as the first step to stop sneezing – find an allergist.
You’ll most likely then undergo testing, to determine what is literally bugging you.
Can you avoid whatever it is that is causing the cough? Sometimes, but not always – like avoiding pollen, ragweed and mold can be difficult, so you may – like Ferst – end up with medications to make you more comfortable.
Fisco had hoped that he would eventually outgrow his allergies, and attendant sneezing and runny nose.
With his antihistamine regime, he still sneezes, “But at this point I’m so used to it that I barely even notice.”
Still, Fisco, who is single, is careful when he dates someone new.
“I guess I try to hide it until I’m more comfortable with the girl,” he says.
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