Doctors say a growing number of New Jersey allergy sufferers are giving up on over-the-counter medications and asking for more potent prescription drugs to help them get through an especially bad spring allergy season.

They say over-the-counter, and even some prescription, antihistamines and decongestants are no longer working for some allergy sufferers who have taken those medications for extended periods of time.

“There is just a large percentage of patients where the medicines are becoming less and less effective,” said Dr. Larry Schwartz, an allergist with Atlantic Allergy and Asthma Center in Linwood. “The body grows used to these medications.”

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Schwartz said many patients now want prescription steroid nasal sprays, or more extensive treatment for their particular allergies.

“This year, more people than ever are coming in for allergy shots,” he said.

At the ShopRite on English Creek Road in Egg Harbor Township on Friday, Dawn Donchey was buying some allergy medicine for her husband, Arthur, who has suffered with allergies for years.

Donchey, who lives on Princeton Avenue, said she was buying a different over-the-counter medication on the advice of the family’s doctor because the medication her husband has used for years no longer works. Donchey said she and her husband are considering something more drastic, such as allergy shots.

“We haven’t made up our minds yet,” she said.

This spring’s bad allergy season and the increasing difficulty in treating allergy sufferers is causing other significant health problems, physicians say.

Melissa Huchinson, a physician with AtlantiCare Family Medicine in Upper Township, said she’s treating patients for acute sinus infections caused by allergies. The patients are suffering from serious facial and tooth pain caused by nasal congestions, she said.

Huchinson said the problem is worse for adults, who have more developed sinuses than children.

Officials with the state Department of Health and Senior Services said they don’t monitor allergy problems.

However, Dr. Catherine Monteleone, a certified allergist and associate professor of medicine with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tracks allergy problems across the state. She said doctors throughout New Jersey are reporting increased health problems related to allergies, and a demand from patients for more powerful allergy drugs.

“This is a bad year,” she said. “The pollen counts are very high and people are really suffering.”

The suffering is so bad that more people are turning to specialists for help.

According to Schwartz, allergists report seeing more new patients this spring than in the past several springs.

“They’ve already tried everything that they can do on their own, or what they can do through their primary care doctors,” he said.

Doctors are blaming the severe allergy season on a this past winter’s heavy snowfall, which was followed by rain and then warm temperatures that prompted early and quick tree growth. That tree growth caused large amounts of pollen, they said.

Many allergists use the Web site to monitor pollen levels. The Web site uses a series of factors, such as weather, to develop a daily pollen ranking. The ranking runs from zero to 12, with 12 being the worst-case scenario.

A review of the rankings for a number of southern New Jersey communities shows most of the communities had a score of 10 or above for at least 15 of the past 20 days.

Some residents don’t need charts to determine the severity of the allergy season with which they’re dealing.

In the Seaville section of Upper Township, 40-year-old Nicole Chain has used prescription eye drops and nasal sprays to help her cope with allergies for about the past 15 years. Even with those medications, Chain said her allergies are worse this spring - a season she looks forward to despite the allergy problems.

“My eyes and nasal allergies are really bad,” she said. “I love spring. To me, it’s really beautiful. But, yes, I have to suffer for it.”

Chain said her 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, also suffers from allergies that bring on breathing problems. That’s tough on a girl who swims for a local swim team, she said.

“You can see the difference when she’s done laps,” Chain said.

Preventing allergy problems at home

  • Dusting surfaces and frequently washing bedding can help control dust mites in the home.
  • Vacuuming once or twice a week can also reduce surface dust mites. Wearing a mask when vacuuming, or leaving the  house for a few hours after cleaning, helps with avoiding airborn allergens. Use a vacuum with an air filter to capture dust.
  • Limit contact with animals with fur and feathers. Pet owners with allergies should at least keep pets out of the bedroom.
  • Keep windows and doors closed to prevent pollen from entering the home. Use and regularly clean an air filtering system, or run the air conditioner and change its filter often.
  • Limit the number of houseplants, as they also carry pollen.
  • Reduce moisture in the bathroom and kitchen to limit the threat from mold spores. Fix any leaks found inside and outside the home. Clean moldy surfaces.
  • Use a dehumidifier.

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

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