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Ah-choo! 4 questions for the allergist


With allergy season in full swing, sufferers are looking to reduce their pesky and irritating symptoms.

But what really works, and what doesn’t? Here are some tips about finding relief:

Q: Can a spoonful of honey build immunity to seasonal pollens?
A: Many allergy sufferers have heard this one before, but sadly, the facts seem to indicate otherwise.
Here’s why: Bees love the larger flowers, resulting in more pollen sticking to the plants and not traveling in the air. Any of the pollen that does get airborne tends not to be the exact type of pollen that triggers most seasonal allergy symptoms.

So even locally made honey is not something you can count on to help reduce sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.

This theory was confirmed by a 2002 University of Connecticut Health Center study, which indicated that no type of honey afforded any allergy-fighting benefit when compared to a placebo containing syrup. In other words, honey did not relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.

“Seasonal allergies are usually triggered by wind-borne pollens, not by pollens spread by insects,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “So it’s unlikely that honey collected from plants that do not cause allergy symptoms would provide any therapeutic benefit.”

Q: Can having pets worsen seasonal allergies?
A: Pollen can cling to the fur of dogs and cats, which can quickly be transferred back inside your home, landing on carpet, upholstery and your bedding. This is especially true when your pet frolics and rolls around in grass and other outdoor areas.

Think about using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove allergy-containing particles from floors and carpeting. You may also wish to limit your pet from resting on your bed, especially after he or she has spent time outdoors on a high-pollen day.

Q: Can one really reduce allergy symptoms, even on a high-pollen day?
A: Yes. The first real step is “knowing” specifically what you are allergic to. While people are tempted to say they have spring tree pollen allergies, it is helpful to know the exact types of trees you are sensitive to — that way you can watch the pollen counts more efficiently.

There are different ways to have allergy tests performed. The first, typically used by nonspecialists, is the allergy blood test.

The second type of test, which is generally more sensitive and performed by allergy specialists, is skin tests. They are virtually painless and can provide meaningful results, quickly and safely right in the allergist’s office.

Once you know the specifics of your exact allergy profile, a customized solution can be found to prevent and successfully manage your seasonal allergies. Besides medications and allergy injections, we also provide other common sense strategies for our patients:

  • Keep windows closed and run your air conditioner on the “do not re-circulate” setting.
  • Wear a pollen mask when gardening and/or mowing the lawn.
  • Remove your shoes when entering your home.
  • It is best to avoid hanging laundry outdoors.
  • Don’t forget to take your prescribed allergy medication before outdoor exposure, or regularly during allergy season.

Another thing to keep in mind: In general, the day’s lowest pollen levels occur during early morning and slowly rise throughout the day until early evening. Other factors, such as winds and dry weather, favor higher pollen levels.

Q: Can some healthy foods worsen your allergy symptoms?
A: Yes! Despite the fact that fruits and vegetables are generally regarded as healthy foods for allergy and asthma sufferers, they may worsen your seasonal allergies, because of a cross-reaction between seasonal tree, grass and weed pollens.

Some sufferers may experience the effects of “oral allergy syndrome,” described as itchiness and tingling of the mouth and throat, as well as potential worsening of allergy symptoms, after eating various cross-reacting raw fruits and vegetables.

In some cases, peeling and/or cooking the food may reduce symptoms by changing or altering some of the culprit substances present in these foods.

Dr. Clifford Bassett is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. He is on the faculty of the NYU School of Medicine and a clinical professor of medicine and otolaryngology at the Long Island College Hospital and SUNY Brooklyn.

Dr. Clifford Bassett | Special to CNN