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Aug, 2012

“I’m going to scratch my eyes out!”

If you’re saying this right now, put down your sandpaper/car keys/dinner forks and walk away slowly. I promise you, scratching your eyes out is not the answer for your discomfort.

Pollen in the air can make your eyes itch, burn and sting like crazy some days. If you’re suffering from this right now, there is hope! Here are some friendly reminders of ways to relieve those miserable eyes:

  1. If you’ve never been tested for allergies before, now is definitely the time. Come on in – I can tell you what’s making your eyes itch and what we can do to make it stop.
  2. If you’ve been prescribed a steroid nasal spray in the past, USE IT. If your nasal allergy symptoms are controlled, your eyes will itch much less, and sometimes the itching will stop completely. If your nasal spray isn’t working, it could be a sign you need something stronger, or that you have a sinus infection (which will also make itching eyes much worse).
  1. There are very effective (in my opinion, heaven-sent) eye drops that you can use to relieve your symptoms in a matter of minutes. These are prescription strength antihistamine eye drops. Come see us and I can give you some great ones to try, and write you a prescription for the eye drop that works best for you.

Don’t put up with your eyes feeling this way! I feel your pain, and I can tell you – life is so much better after getting the proper treatment.

Your friendly neighborhood PA,

Nikki Zack, PA-C

Jun, 2012

The bees are coming out to play.

What a mild winter we had! Because of these great temperatures, everything started growing early. And just as spring arrived way ahead of schedule, summer has, too. I’m sure you’re already gardening, grilling out, going to parks, hanging around swimming pools, and having picnics.

But you aren’t the only one out enjoying your flowers, your foods, and your outdoor parties. Bees will be very happy to join you.

We all know that bee stings are not a very fun experience. For everyone, they cause pain and irritation at the site of the sting. So what’s the difference between a normal bee sting response, and a bee venom allergy? And which reactions are dangerous?

A normal response to a bee sting (or bee venom) is mild pain, and a red, raised, warm area right where you are stung.

People with any allergies – pollen, pets, dust mites, food, or otherwise – will have increased responses to bee stings and all other insect bites. This means you may have much larger red, swollen areas around the bee sting, and it may itch or be more painful than average. This type of response is called a “local reaction,” meaning all of the symptoms occur around the site of the sting. Even if you swell up your whole arm after being stung on your hand, it’s still considered a “local reaction.” A local reaction, though very uncomfortable and sometimes requires treatment to help it heal faster, is NOT immediately dangerous.

Here’s where we run into trouble. If you have any increased allergy symptoms away from the site of the sting, it means you’re having a “systemic reaction.” Your whole body is reacting, and this can be life-threatening. Symptoms can include hives (red, itchy bumps or welts on the skin), skin redness, flushing, swelling of the mouth, throat, face or body, difficulty breathing, coughing, tight chest, hoarseness, nasal congestion, sneezing, racing heart, dizziness, fainting, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. If this happens to you, call 911 and seek emergency medical care.

If you have a history of any systemic symptoms after being stung by a bee, it’s absolutely essential that you carry an EpiPen – an injectable medication that could save your life. There is allergy testing that can confirm a bee venom allergy, so come see us in the office to get checked out.

Here’s to a sting-free summer!

Your neighborhood Allergist,

Nikki Zack, PA-C

Jun, 2012

Seasonal allergies …

I’m sure you’ve heard already that this is one of the worst years for seasonal (pollen and mold) allergy sufferers in recent memory. Here in Minnesota, it’s the price we pay for a short, mild winter. The pollen seasons start earlier, peak faster, and cause us stronger symptoms before we’re ready for them.

The best advice I can give is to prepare for these symptoms. Don’t wait until you’re miserable to use your medications. Stay on top of them. If you’re a person who requires no medication at all during the winter, start your seasonal treatments a month ahead of when you usually start your symptoms in previous years.

Nasal sprays or nasal inhalers are essential. Antihistamines cover up symptoms, but prescription steroid nasal sprays can actually prevent allergic reactions from starting in the first place. I recommend nasal sprays regularly (every day) and antihistamines only if there are still symptoms after using nasal sprays.

Now, I talked about medications first because prevention of exposure to outdoor pollens can be difficult. My desire is not for you to live in a bubble. We were made to enjoy the outdoors! Still, there are small steps of prevention you can take that can make a BIG difference.

  1. Close your windows. At least after being outdoors, you have a place to come indoors that is pollen-free and will give your immune system a nice break.
  2. Change your clothes when coming in from outside. Pollen is very sticky, and it is microscopic. You can’t see it, but it is there, all over your clothes. Change into something clean and you’ll feel better.
  3. Shower/rinse off after coming in from outside, or at least before going to bed. As I said, pollen is very sticky – if you go outside and then you come in and go to bed, you’re bringing pollen right along with you. You might as well be sleeping outside if you’re doing that! Wash your pillow case in hot water today, and from now on rinse off your hair and body before crawling in for sleep. Your nose, eyes, skin and lungs will thank you in the morning.

Your neighborhood Physician Assistant,

Nikki Zack


Jun, 2012

Do you have pollen allergies? These foods may give you trouble, too.

Hi everyone! Spring is in full bloom, and hay fever sufferers have definitely noticed. Commonly, this time of year, allergy sufferers experience sneezing, runny nose, congestion, itchy eyes…and itchy mouths.

If you’ve ever had an itchy mouth after eating raw fruits, veggies, or nuts, you are not alone. Up to one third of people with pollen allergies experience this phenomenon. It’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome.

Oral Allergy Syndrome occurs when the body essentially confuses a fruit, vegetable or nut for a pollen protein. For those of us who have pollen allergies, our immune systems are programmed to react to pollen as if it is an enemy, attacking it, and causing us hay fever symptoms in the mean time. In the case of Oral Allergy Syndrome, our immune system sees a fruit, vegetable, or nut, and basically says “close enough!” It attacks the food just like it would attack pollen if you put it direction into your mouth. This is called cross-reactivity. Think of this as your immune system being VERY over-protective of you!

Symptoms of Oral Allergy Syndrome can include itchy tongue, lips, roof of mouth, or the inside of cheeks, and rarely, lip, tongue or throat swelling. Most cases of Oral Allergy Syndrome are mild, but it’s possible for them to cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening.

Your oral allergy syndrome trigger foods will be different depending on what pollens or other substances you are allergic to. Here are the foods to watch out for by category:


  • Birch Pollen Allergy: People with birch pollen allergies may react to kiwi, apples, pears, peaches, kiwi, plums, coriander, fennel, parsley, celery, cherries, carrots, hazelnuts, and almonds.
  • Grass Allergy: People with grass allergy may react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons, and oranges.
  • Ragweed Allergy: People with ragweed allergies may react to bananas, melons (honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelons), tomatoes, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile tea, and echinacea. (Be careful with herbal supplements – they could actually be making your worse!)
  • Latex Rubber Allergy: Like pollen allergy, people allergic to latex rubber may react to bananas, avocados, kiwi, chestnuts, and papaya.


So how do we avoid having these reactions? Well, the easiest and safest way is to avoid the foods that cause you symptoms. Oral Allergy Syndrome is worse during the given pollen season, but can still happen year-round.

For mild reactions, cooking the foods can help. Eating canned foods instead of fresh foods can also avoid the reactions.

If you have EVER experienced swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue, throat, or any difficulty swallowing or breathing, please contact us immediately. Those symptoms are severe, and warrant carrying an EpiPen to treat a possible life-threatening reaction in the future. Call 651-765-9800 to reach our office.

Be safe, take your recommended allergy treatments, and enjoy this beautiful spring!

Your neighborhood Allergy PA,

Nikki Zack

Jan, 2012

In need of medicine…or just some moisture?

Happy New Year, everyone! ‘Tis the season for celebration and new year’s resolutions…and also for extremely dry air! If you’ve heard mixed messages about humidifying the air, you’re not alone. Here’s the truth about air dryness and your allergy and sinus health.

When the air is too humid, dust mites and mold spores can grow at much more rapid rates. This is why it is important to DEHUMIDIFY the air at certain times of the year, or in certain rooms (humid summer weeks, moist basements). When there are more mites and mold, your allergy and sinus symptoms will be worse.

When the air is too dry, your nasal and sinus passages can become tight and raw, causing a lot of discomfort, and at times colored or bloody discharge. In Minnesota, during the winter time, it is very common for our air to become too dry. Humidifiers (kept very clean to minimize mildew growth) can help your nasal and sinus passages feel much better.

Too dry or too moist: how to tell? Here’s a great way.

Pick up a humidity gauge at your local pharmacy. They are common and inexpensive in most cases. If the humidity in your home is less than 30%, your air is too dry and could be the cause of your symptoms. This is a great time to use a humidifier. If your air has more than 50% humidity, it is too moist and you should consider a dehumidifier.

I wish you all a happy new year and moist nasal passages!
Nikki Zack, PA-C