Do you feel that your allergy symptoms get worse during the late spring and early summer? It’s possible that you may have a grass allergy. The summer season is grass pollination season, causing an array of bothersome symptoms in individuals who are allergic to it. The condition is called seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Common complaints of allergic rhinitis include recurrent sneezing, a runny nose, water/itchy eyes, postnasal drip, nasal congestion, or throat congestion. Those with severe grass allergies may report itchiness of the skin or urticaria (hives) after contact with grass. Other conditions that are associated with grass allergies include asthma, eczema, conjunctivitis, nasal polyps, sinusitis (sinus swelling), sleep apnea, laryngitis, and ear infections. Some individuals with grass allergies may also suffer from oral allergy syndrome (OAS), a condition marked by itchiness of the mouth and throat after consuming raw fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peaches).
The first step in minimizing allergy symptoms is to see what grass pollens you are allergic to. This can be accomplished via allergy testing. Patients are often tested for several different grass species usually dependent on which grasses are found in their area. A typical New England panel may include Rye grass, Bermuda grass, Timothy grass, Bahia grass, and Johnson grass. Allergy testing can be performed via a quick, pain-free skin test or by a blood test, which is often sent away to a reference lab. Both testing methods are safe and effective for diagnosing grass, as well as other types of environmental allergies. Skin testing is advantageous in that it can be performed in the office setting, the results are readily available, and multiple grass allergens can be tested.
Modifying your environment can be very effective way to decrease grass allergy symptoms. This includes keeping home windows closed, staying indoors on high pollen days, not drying clothing outside, showering before bedtime, and wearing appropriate clothing when mowing the lawn. Medical management includes over the counter antihistamines (e.g. Claritin, Zyrtec) and intranasal steroid sprays (e.g. Flonase), decongestants as well as some other otc type medications. For patients who are interested in long term improvement and decreased usage of allergy medications, immunotherapy can be considered. Immunotherapy is a method to improve the body’s immune system against those allergens that one is reacting to negatively. Immunotherapy can be administer subcutaneously (SCIT – “allergy shots”) or sublingually (SLIT – “allergy drops”). Multiple studies over the past 50 years have consistently demonstrated that SCIT is a safe and effective way to minimize allergy symptoms. SLIT is the most common form of allergy treatment in Europe and many studies have show it to be as safe and effective as traditional “allergy shots”. The major disadvantage for SLIT is that it is currently not FDA approved (although the drops are made from the exact same extract as allergy shots), and therefore this treatment would not be covered through medical insurance. Many of our patients have been successfully treated with both types of immunotherapy over the past 15 years.
If you or family members have questions or concerns regarding grass allergies, please do not hesitate to contact Colden & Seymour Ear, Nose, Throat, and Allergy to schedule an examination. Opinions expressed here are those of Daryl Colden, MD, FACS, and Christopher Jayne, BA. These opinions are not a substitute for direct medical evaluation and advice.
Humans are exposed to all kinds of sounds on a daily basis; including cars, engines, televisions, or radios. Under most circumstances, these sounds are at safe levels and do not affect our hearing. However, when we are exposed to loud noises, sensitive structures inside the inner ear can be damaged. This condition is referred to as noise induced sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing is a complex mechanism which requires several structures to work together. The outer ear includes the pinna and external auditory canal. The pinna functions to collect sound waves and direct them into the auditory canal. Because of its unique structure, sounds are amplified as they travel towards the back of the auditory canal. The captured sound waves then reach the tympanic membrane (eardrum) at the back of the canal, causing it to vibrate back and forth. The eardrum represents the separating barrier between the outer and the middle ear. As the eardrum vibrates, three tiny bones behind it begin to shift with it. These tiny bones are considered the smallest in the body, and are called ossicles. The last tiny bone, commonly referred to as the stapes, then transfers the vibrating motion to the organ of hearing, the cochlea. It is inside the cochlea where tiny structures called “hair cells” convert the vibrating energy into an electrical signal. The signal travels to the brain where perception occurs.
When noises are too loud, the tiny hair cells within the inner ear are damaged and eventually die. This results in decreased hearing. Noise induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense sound (such as a blast) or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time (working in a loud shop). Leisure activities can also put one at risk for noise induced hearing loss. This might include listening to MP3 players at high volumes or attending loud rock concerts.
There are many other causes of hearing loss besides noise, and these causes include aging (presbycusis), genetics, disease (history of recurrent middle ear infections, viral inner ear infections, and Meniere’s disease), and trauma .The severity of hearing loss depends on all of these factors , which can co-exist and be additive. Individuals with a mild hearing loss might only experience difficulty hearing with background noises. Individuals with a severe hearing loss may experience difficulty during normal conversation, which can impact their personal and professional life significantly. Another common symptom of hearing loss is ringing or buzzing in the ear, which is referred to as tinnitus. Tinnitus will often come and go, and can be extremely bothersome to patients. Machines that create masking sounds (white noise) can be used to “cancel-out” the tinnitus in many cases.
Noise induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that can be completely prevented. The best way to do so is to avoid loud noises. If one cannot avoid excessive noise, hearing protection is recommended. Ear plugs or ear muffs are frequently used to help decrease loud noises.
Proper assessment of hearing loss requires a hearing evaluation. If one suspects that their hearing has decreased it is important to see an otolaryngologist (Ears, Nose, and Throat physician) or licensed hearing professional who can perform a specialized hearing test. Depending on the results and exam, a patient may be a candidate for a hearing aid or other assistive listening devices. Other modalities include fabricating a custom ear plug that can minimize additional noise exposure if one is routinely exposed to loud noises at work or during hobbies (i.e. musicians). If a patient wishes to pursue hearing aids, a hearing aid evaluation is set up. During a hearing aid evaluation a trained audiologist or hearing instrument specialist will meet with the patient and help them find a hearing aid model which works best for them.
If you have any questions about Noise Induced Hearing Loss or want to set up an evaluation with one of our Board Certified Ear Nose Throat specialists, or licensed audiologists or hearing instrument specialists, please contact us at Colden & Seymour Ear Nose Throat and Allergy at 978-997-1550, or through our website.
Have your ears ever felt blocked while flying on an airplane, climbing up a mountain, or scuba diving underwater? This sensation is a common response of the Eustachian tube following changes in atmospheric pressure.
The Eustachian tube is a narrow canal located deep inside of your ear behind the eardrum. The tube is about 3 to 4 centimeters long in adults and connects the middle ear space to the back of the nose (known as the nasopharynx). The primary function of the Eustachian tube is to equalize the pressure of the middle ear. Under normal circumstances, the tube is closed at rest and rapidly opens when yawning or swallowing. When the tube opens, it allows for an air exchange to occur between the middle ear and the back of the nose (where the pressure is close to the external environment).
Blockage of the Eustachian tube, or inability to open, causes the middle ear space to become isolated from the exterior environment. This condition is called Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). When the tube fails to open, the lining of the middle ear may absorb the trapped air and create a negative pressure which pulls the eardrum inward. As a result, the patient may experience a blocked sensation, pain, pressure, or hearing loss. Long-term blockage of the Eustachian tube may result in the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear space. Younger children are more susceptible to middle ear fluid, ear infections, and Eustachian tube dysfunction because their eustachian tubes are shorter and more narrow, therefore causing decreased function. In addition, children often have enlarged adenoids in the back of the nose (nasopharynx), which can block the opening of the Eustachian tube and cause increased ear symptoms. Most children will eventually develop better eustachian tube function as they mature, but if eustachian tube dysfunction causes repeated ear infections, persistent ear fluid, or hearing loss related to ear fluid then certain types of surgical procedures can be considered, such as ear tube placement and/or removal of enlarged adenoids. Ear tube placement is shown to be a very safe and effective treatment for ear infections, ear fluid and hearing loss caused by eustachian tube dysfunction, and the ear tubes are designed to fall out on their own usually within 1 year.
There are a variety of ways to test the function and patency of the Eustachian tube. This includes a pneumatic otoscope (a small device that visualizes the ear canal and blows air towards the eardrum), a tympanogram (a test to evaluate eardrum motility), and a specialized hearing test. Also, a quick and painless in-office procedure called a nasopharyngoscopy allows physicians to evaluate the nose, sinuses and nasopharynx to insure that there is no blockage of Eustachian tube opening, usually caused by enlarged adenoids or nasal polyps.
Self-inflation of the ears is perhaps the easiest treatment for ETD. This can be accomplished by pinching the nose closed and “popping the ear”, also known as the Valsalva maneuver. ETD is often made worse by underlying allergies or sinus issues. Identification and treatment of allergic rhinitis and/or sinusitis may help reduce inflammation of the Eustachian tube and improve overall function. For patients with chronic ETD, treating underling sinus and allergy disease will often be helpful to reduce symptoms. For patients who will be flying and are prone to ETD, use of an oral decongestant (sudafed) or a nasal decongestant spray known as oxymetazoline (Afrin) should be considered in the short term. These medications are most effective if used during ascent and descent. Depending on severity of symptoms, some severe or chronic cases of ETD in adults may be treated by placement of an ear tube in the office setting, which can help equalize pressure in the middle ear.
Daryl Colden, MD FACS and Christopher Jayne, BS
Opinions expressed here are those of myself, Dr. Daryl Colden. They are not intended as medical advice and cannot substitute for the advice of your personal physician.