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MS and Allergy Season

By Matt Cavallo

One of the reasons I moved to Arizona was to escape the seasonal allergies that plagued me my entire life growing up in the northeast. I had always heard that the desert was the place to be to find relief from chronic seasonal allergies. As it turned out, allergy relief in the Sonoran desert is nothing more than an urban legend.
Not only has this been a bad allergy season for me, it has been the worst that I have ever experienced. For the first time in my life, I am actually begging for the 100 degree heat to come to the valley so that the pollen will dry up and my life can go back to normal. The caveat being that the 100 degree days also not a friend to my MS.
The fact that I am so miserable made me wonder whether or not there is a correlation between multiple sclerosis and allergies. The initial research was not promising. A 2011 NCBI study concluded that there was no connection between allergic diseases and MS. While there was no direct correlation between MS and allergies, there seemed to be a correlation between histamine and inflammation.
Histamine is a biologically active substance found in a great variety of living organisms, including humans. When exposed to an antigen (a foreign substance like pollen or pet dander) the body releases histamines in inordinate amounts. These antigens cause inflammation. A study of histamines and MS found an unexpected connection between pathways involved in autoimmunity and allergy and suggests previously unrecognized connections between these very different types of immune responses.
Personally, this allergy season is having a profound effect on my quality of life. I am overly fatigued and lack the motivation to complete everyday tasks because of my allergy symptoms. If you are struggling with your allergies, here are some tips that can help.

Three tips for managing allergies with MS: 

  1. See an Allergist – An allergist is a physician with a specialty in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases, who identifies asthma or allergy triggers. To identify triggers, you will go through a scratch test where the allergist will prick your skin with substance like pollen and pet dander that are known allergy triggers. Your skin will show a reaction to the items you are allergic to. The allergist can then recommend a treatment plan, which could include, if you are like me, getting allergy shots to help you build a tolerance to your allergy triggers over time. If you see an allergist, make sure to tell them about your MS and any MS medications that you take. Also, notify your neurologist if you start an allergy treatment regime.
  2. Self-care – Once you know your allergy triggers, you can start to protect yourself from your allergy triggers. Here are some self-care tips that can help:
    1. If you are working or enjoying outdoor activity, consider wearing an allergy mask.
    2. Take off your shoes outside before you come inside so you don’t track pollen through the house.
    3. Change your air filters every 90 days
    4. Shower before bed to remove any allergens that may have gotten on your body or hair throughout the day.
    5. Keep the dog or cat off of the furniture. (A rule that I am violating as I write this.) Our beloved four-legged friends can be an allergy trigger. They can also carry pollen or other allergens from outside to inside the house and get those allergens all over our furniture.
  3. Explore your treatment options – Allergy medications are common and available over the counter. As mentioned earlier, an allergist can also provide an allergy shot regime in addition to the over-the-counter options. Before you consider starting an allergy treatment regime, it always a good idea to notify your neurologist. Also, when you are in the pharmacy area looking at possible treatments, ask a pharmacist about the different options. Over-the-counter options include anti-histamines, inhalable steroids, and eye drops. Finding the combination that works best for you may take some trial and error as each brand, or generic equivalent, works in different ways.
While there is no direct link between MS and allergies, a correlation has been established between inflammation and histamine. If you are suffering from seasonal allergies, you can seek relief. Allergists are doctors who can help. You can also take self-care measures around your home and explore treatment options. MS is tough enough without allergies, but, luckily, allergies are treatable so you can get some relief and concentrate your attention on fighting MS.