Moving? Welcome Home to New Allergies

Health Writer
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It’s one of the most common things Maxcie Sikora, M.D., hears from patients who recently moved to the South.

“They say they didn’t have allergies where they lived before, but since moving here, they are suddenly having flare-ups,” said Dr. Sikora,who is an allergist with Alabama Allergy & Asthma Center in Alabama.

Not exactly a surprise, since Birmingham, Alabama, is often considered one of the top 10 allergy capitals in the country, Dr. Sikora said. Greenery and foliage flourish in the region’s abundant sunlight and humidity, which can also be especially inviting to both mold and dust mites. And in general, the South has higher springtime pollen counts and a more intense allergy season.

But no matter where you live, moving to a new area of the country or frequent travel can trigger environmental allergies and seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as “hay fever.” If you suddenly find yourself allergic to your new location, here’s why that may be, and what you can do about it.

Allergies on the move

People can develop allergies at any age and for a variety of reasons. Just because you didn’t have seasonal allergies when you were younger, doesn’t mean your immune system won’t become allergic to pollen and other allergens, such as pet dander, mold, or dust mites later in life, Dr. Sikora said. Exposure to new allergens, or coming into frequent contact with a higher level of allergens, can all cause your immune system to overreact.

“You can have sensitization to allergens just because of an environmental change,” she said. “You can have this when you move to a different region of the country that you haven’t been exposed to previously.”

If you have allergies, it’s important to pay attention to pollen counts for a sense of when you should avoid being outside. But even indoor environmental allergens may be impacted by region. For instance, you may find your dust mite allergy suddenly flaring in a different area.

“The degree of dust mites changes in the South, because they thrive on humidity and heat,,” Dr. Sikora said. “Whereas you go more North in our country and it’s not as major of an allergen trigger.”

Tackling allergies while traveling

If you are a frequent traveler, there are a few things you can do to help keep allergens from triggering symptoms: keep track of pollen counts, including at your destination, remember to refill prescription allergy medication before your trip, and pack any allergy medication with you.

“For my patients who travel frequently who are very dust mite allergic, I recommend that they carry a dust mite pillowcase cover with them, so they can at least zip that cover over their pillow to have some control over their exposure” Dr. Sikora said.

If you are highly sensitive to indoor allergens, you can look for a hotel with allergen friendly rooms. These may include special filtration systems and other hypoallergenic accommodations to reduce the amount of irritants, mold, or viruses in the room.

A few such hotel chains that advertise allergen friendly rooms include Hilton, Hyatt, Westin, Marriott, and Embassy Suites.

Are allergy shots right for you?

Over-the-counter medications, such as intranasal steroid sprays and long-acting antihistamines, are good options for any allergy sufferer, Dr. Sikora said. But if your seasonal allergy symptoms continue, despite being on medication, or persist long periods of time, you may want to consider allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy.

Allergy shots are regular injections that work similarly to a vaccine by gradually injecting a person with particular allergen. Over time, this helps the immune system become more resistant to these specific allergens, so symptoms are decreased, and the need for allergy medication is decreased or eliminated. It’s the closest thing to a cure for seasonal allergies, Dr. Sikora said

Allergy shots are formulated to your allergens in a specific region, and generally the regimen requires 3 to 5 years for maximum effectiveness. If you move, you will have to be retested and have your shots reformulated to the allergens in your new area.

“You still will have likely gained some benefit from doing previous allergy shots,” said Dr. Sikora. “Some of those trees and grasses and weeds in your new location are probably going to be the same as your previous location.” But if you’re only going to be in an area for a limited period of time, a year or two, it may not be worth it to start on allergy shots, she said.

“To get the most benefit from allergy shots, you really need to be on them for at least 3 years,” she said. “Some patients who are just here for a year or two for grad school, it’s probably not worth them investing the time and money and in doing allergy shots while they are here, unless they are planning on staying. “