The WellSpan Spotlight

Health and wellness

How I do it: ENT provider with allergies shares tips for sneezing season


Kyrene Zack isn’t only a physician assistant who treats patients with allergies at WellSpan ENT & Hearing Services in Franklin County.

She's also a longtime allergy sufferer herself. And the mom of a 5-year-old son who also has allergies.

So, when her patients of all ages come to her with similar problems – seasonal allergies impact one in four adults and one in five children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – Zack can draw on her medical training and her personal knowledge to help them. Here are her tips and tricks for surviving the itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, and general misery of allergy season.

Get on top of it early

Due to climate change, allergy season starts earlier and lasts longer, producing more pollen, according to a study published in the National Academy of Science.

Allergy medicine works best when taken before you come into contact with pollen. This can help to prevent inflammation, ease symptoms, and keep your symptoms from snowballing, making them more difficult to treat.

“I tell patients to start taking allergy medicine at the end of February,” Zack says.

The ABCs of OTCs

Over-the-counter medications should be your first line of defense against allergies. Zack has this advice:

  • Be consistent and take them every day at the same time during allergy season. Don’t stop even if your symptoms lessen.
  • If Zack had to choose one OTC to start with, it would be a steroid nasal spray, such as Flonase, Nasonex, or Nasacort.
  • The combination of a steroid nasal spray and an antihistamine also can be very effective. Common OTC antihistamines include Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, and Xyzal. They are created fairly equally but you might have to do some trial and error to see which antihistamine works best for you, Zack says.
  • If you have children with allergies, choose a pediatric version of an antihistamine. Zack’s son takes a 5-milligram chewable Claritin once a day every night. She also uses a mist version of Flonase, which has a lower dosage of medicine for his smaller body.
  • Zack says patients should look for generic offerings of medications and buy in bulk to save money. Larger discount stores often offer the best value, she notes.
  • If you don’t have relief from OTCs, see a physician for treatment.

Other steps

Zack washes her family’s bed sheets in hot water once a week. Her family also uses air purifiers and filters on heating/air conditioning units.

If Zack gets a heavy dose of pollen from working in her yard or dust from cleaning her house, she uses a neti pot, which looks like a little teapot and can be used to rinse warm saltwater through the nose, in one nostril and out the other.

Shots? Yes or no

Zack underwent allergy testing when she was in high school, and learned that she was allergic to trees, grasses, pet dander, and dust mites. Her symptoms impacted her life enough that she received immunotherapy, in the form of allergy shots.

Shots can be effective for those who are taking OTCs but still feel significantly impacted by allergy symptoms or have recurrent sinus infections, middle ear infections, or asthma flare ups. Because she has done the shots herself, Zack can tell patients about the commitment it requires (a weekly shot for about two years) as well as the benefits (she no longer needs a nasal spray to manage her symptoms).

“I just breathe a lot better through my nose,” she says. “Having allergies has provided me with empathy for my patients. I know what they are going through, and we want to give them some relief.”

Need some help managing your allergies? Go here.