LOCAL PHYSICIANS’ TOP TIPS
BY PAMELA LUTRELL
It’s that time of year … the time when leaves turn red, sweaters turn red, and, unfortunately, so do the noses of most San Antonio residents. Allergy and flu season blows into South Texas as soon as summer ends and holds many citizens in its grip until those warm weather temperatures return in about seven months.
Dr. Patricia Dinger of the Advanced Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center says, “Most patients suffer from December through February because of the heavy mountain cedar pollen. In my practice 50 percent of patients who take allergy tests are positive to mountain cedar. In the fall, the predominant allergens are ragweed, fall-blooming elm and grasses. For some patients, there is no escape, and they have allergies year-round.”
While allergies are a common part of San Antonio life, Dr. Dinger cautions they can be triggers for sinus infections, bronchitis, annual colds and asthma. Regular occurrences of any of these can be circumvented with a visit to a board-certified allergist’s office. Symptoms of a sinus infection include facial pain or pressure, fever/chills, discolored mucus, pain in teeth, headache and dizziness. With these symptoms, an infection may require three weeks of antibiotics for healing. If a sinus infection goes untreated, it may take more antibiotics to heal, and the infection could spread. Take such infections seriously.Dr. Dinger reminds San Antonio residents to understand their over-the-counter medications.
She says, “We use antihistamine to block the release of histamine when we encounter an allergen. Histamine is responsible for mucus production, redness and itching. This is why antihistamines help with these symptoms. Decongestants, on the other hand, are used when we have significant mucus production. Decongestants dry mucus but should be used only for temporary flares and not year-round. Antihistamines may be used year-round for prevention.”
She offers the following tips to survive allergy season:
1. Get a flu shot!
2. Get allergy tested if symptoms persist.
3. Once diagnosed with allergies, begin a good preventive regimen of medication.
4. Use environmental controls in the home to decrease exposure to common allergens. Examples are dust mite encasings and a HEPA air purifier.
5. If prone to frequent infections, see an immunologist for an immune workup. Sometimes it’s an easy fix.
Dr. Michael Magoon of the Emergency Clinic of Alamo Heights cautions patients to remember the differences between allergies, colds and the flu.
“If you feel like a truck has hit you and there is a high fever and coughing, it is more than likely the flu,” he says. Colds are not accompanied by body aches.
He says, “If these symptoms should arise, go to the doctor or even our clinic right away, and early treatment will prevent the normal seven days in bed. In fact, early treatment can ensure the patient will be better in 24 hours.” Dr. Magoon’s tips include avoiding sick people. “If you notice someone coughing, do not go near them, drink after them or touch a doorknob right after they do,” he advises. “Also, do not take aspirin with the flu. In some cases, it has resulted in liver damage.”
Dr. Margaret Mann Zeballos of the Alamo Heights Medical Group in Family Medicine stresses the importance of flu shots. She says, “The CDC recommends universal flu vaccines for all persons six months of age and older. Different formulations of the flu vaccine exist, so it is best to consult with your health care provider about which vaccine is best for you. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body to protect you against the flu, so it is best to be vaccinated early in the season.” The 2014-2015 flu season was especially severe for adults over age 65.
They accounted for 60 percent of the influenza hospitalizations, so it is very important to get the shots.
Dr. Zeballos cautions, “Remember you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. That is the biggest misconception. In the injectable form, the viruses are inactivated. You can get a very low-grade fever or aching from the injectable vaccine as a side effect. The nasal vaccine contains weakened virus, so it may cause a mild runny nose, sore throat or cough, which will be mild. It is common for people to think the flu shot made them sick. However, we administer flu shots during cough and cold season, so it is likely that the person picked up another viral illness that isn’t actually influenza around the time they received the shot.”
The alternative of actually getting the flu is worse.