Nothing to Sneeze At

Jim Atkinson cures what ails us.

When I first wrote for this magazine about Texas’s unofficial state disease—allergies—nearly a decade ago (“ Blowin’ in the Wind,” April 1997), I was shocked by how little medical science had to offer our estimated 5.5 million sufferers. Even in Austin, which routinely ranks among the top five most allergic cities in the nation, allergy specialists like William Howland couldn’t recommend much more than “Take a Claritin.” Recent studies suggest that the number of afflicted Texans has only increased in the past eight years, so in February I called Howland for an update: Is there any new hope for the red-eyed and itchy-nosed these days? As a matter of fact, yes. Howland reports that though we now know for certain that allergies are a result of our genes (at least 25 percent of us are predisposed to all the dripping and wheezing), today you may be able to not only prevent allergies but also permanently manage them.

Get down and dirty.  Researchers now believe that allergies may be encouraged by a lack of exposure to germs during childhood. While it may be too late for you, take note for your kids, says Howland: Studies have shown that children who are exposed to pets and their allergenic dander, for example, are less likely to experience allergies later in life, presumably because their developing immune systems are able to build a tolerance.

Bull-rush your therapy. It used to be that if you wanted to do something more permanent about your allergies beyond treating the symptoms with an antihistamine, you had to undergo immunotherapy, an expensive, vaguely medieval regimen of shots of allergenic extracts designed to progressively challenge your immune system and desensitize it.

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