Girl blowing her nose in springtime field (photo by iStock)
Ohio Life | Live Well Ohio

Live Well Ohio: May 2023

Get advice for dealing with allergy season, and learn the signs of a stroke so you can protect your family, friends and neighbors. 

This time of year, some of us just need extra tissues to deal with the sneezes that can accompany the arrival of spring, while others have full-body allergic reactions resulting in irritation like skin rashes and itchiness. A mild winter and early blooms mean the pollen causing such reactions arrives earlier, too. “It seems like Ohio gets warmer every year and allergy season seems to stick around longer,” says Dr. Benjamin Bring, who specializes in family medicine at OhioHealth in Dublin. Because May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, we asked Bring how to deal with both.

Treating Allergies
Over-the-counter medications such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are highly effective for blocking histamines that trigger itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing. “When you cycle those antihistamines, you can get more relief as opposed to using the same one over again,” says Bring. Benadryl is a stronger antihistamine that is helpful for addressing more intermediate allergic reactions, but it causes sleepiness and is not recommended for daily use. Over-the-counter sprays like Nasacort and Flonase can help prevent congestion. “The key with nasal steroids is to use them daily during allergy season,” Bring says, “not just with symptoms.”

Assessing Asthma
“We see a lot of overlap with allergies and asthma,” Bring says. Seek the help of a doctor, who may suggest using a peak flow meter, an inexpensive device that can measure the degree of asthma severity via three colored zones. Green means there are no symptoms. A yellow reading alerts exposure to a trigger and symptom onset. An orange zone means breathing is difficult. “Asthma is treatable, and prevention is very important,” says Bring. “Be aware of your triggers, understand how your asthma is classified, and have an asthma action plan in place.”


Warning Signs 
Knowing these common symptoms of stroke and responding to them immediately can save a life.

You notice a woman in the checkout line at the grocery store drop an item and lose her balance. Her face is drooping, and she is having trouble speaking. It’s time to call 911. In this scenario, four symptoms of a stroke are present — arm or leg weakness, loss of balance, facial asymmetry and speech problems. The signs can be easy to miss or not catch quickly and every minute counts, because the blood-vessel blockages that cause these symptoms prevent oxygen from reaching the brain.

“That is when brain cells die, so we need to open that blockage,” says Dr. Deepak Gulati, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who specializes in stroke treatment and care. “Time is brain,” he emphasizes.

Immediate action is of vital importance. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers one, and every 4 minutes, someone dies from one. 

“It’s a common disease with high mortality, and it’s the leading cause of disability in this country,” Gulati says. The good news is 80% of strokes are preventable, and quick action can vastly improve the outcome. The “BE FAST” acronym is important to learn, and someone experiencing stroke may exhibit just one symptom. 

B: Is there a sudden balance loss?

E: Is there a sudden eyesight change or vision loss?

F: Does one side of the face droop or look uneven? Ask them to smile.

A: Is arm weakness or numbness present? Ask them to raise both arms.

S: Is there speech difficulty? Ask them to repeat a phrase.

T: Time to call 911. Trust your instincts.

High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, and other contributing factors include smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and heart disease.

“We can’t control age. We can’t control race. We can’t control our genetics. But we can address modifiable risk factors,” Gulati says.

Don’t skip your annual checkup, and exercise 30 minutes at least five days a week, Gulati recommends. Fill your plate with veggies, skip salty foods and consider a DASH or Mediterranean diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and includes foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. A Mediterranean diet incorporates plant-based foods, whole grains, beans and fruit.

“Controlling these risk factors is key to preventing stroke,” Gulati says. “Awareness of symptoms is very important, because we have to act fast.”