Tag Archives: allergies

Congestion, Headaches, and Sneezing

May 12, 2016 by

Marilyn Modlin was in her late 50s when the sniffles, congestion, and headaches began. She never suffered from allergies before, so she waited it out, hoping the symptoms would go away. But instead they got worse. So bad, she had to sleep sitting up.

Over the next couple years, Modlin visited several allergy doctors, tried various allergy medications, and had sinus surgery and allergy testing. When symptoms did not subside, Modlin began allergy immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. Immunotherapy involves the injections of allergenic extracts typically given over a period of about five years to desensitize your body to your allergy triggers.

Since starting treatment about three years ago, Modlin says her symptoms have been reduced by about 50 percent. “It’s like night and day difference,” says Modlin. “I’ve reduced my meds in half and I hope to keep cutting out more.”

At 63 years old, Modlin thought she was too old for allergies. But the truth is, allergies can occur at any age.

Not only that, but as we age, we become more prone to developing a non-allergic condition similar to allergies, called irritant-induced rhinitis. This condition causes a persistent drippy nose due to exposure to irritants like smoke, dust, or chemicals.

In addition, “people’s lives often change in their 60s and changes in your environment can trigger new allergic reactions,” says Jill Poole, allergist at Nebraska Medicine. “For instance, you may get a new dog or cat, you may move to a new part of the country, or spend your winters in warm environments where you are exposed to new molds, pollen, dust, or sand.”

Modlin attributes the onset of her symptoms to the Iowa/Nebraska flood of 2008, which left fields upon fields of dust, and wet, moldy, decaying matter. A resident of Crescent, Iowa, Modlin says she was surrounded by the dust and debris, and shortly thereafter, the allergy symptoms began.

“If you develop allergies in your 60s or older, don’t minimize your symptoms,” stresses Poole. “If allergies are impacting your sleep, they need to be addressed and treated aggressively. Sleep problems can lead to a host of other issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression. Your doctor also needs to be aware of other medications you may be taking to prevent negative drug interactions or side effects.”

So how do you know if those recurring symptoms of congestion, runny nose, and sneezing are allergies or just another cold? Allergies are more persistent, while the common cold will usually dissipate in approximately seven to 10 days, notes Poole. Like the common cold, allergies are associated with congestion and runny nose. But with allergies, you may also experience achy muscles and joints, watery eyes, itchy nose and eyes, a chronic cough, sinus headaches and chronic fatigue. Another clue, if you’ve tried various antibiotics to treat a supposed cold or sinus infection without success, it may be time to see an allergist.

“Allergies can have a large impact on your life as you get older,” says Dr. Poole. “An allergist can help guide you in taking the most appropriate medications or nasal sprays or determine whether you are a candidate for immunotherapy.”


Safe Summer Swimming

July 6, 2015 by

This article appears in Her Family July 2015.

Summer means swimming, and it takes a few precautions for parents to ensure the activity is safe and healthy, says pediatrician Melissa “Dr. Mel” St. Germain of Children’s Physicians at West Village Pointe.

Otitis externa, known as “swimmer’s ear,” is one of the most common conditions associated with swimming.

“Water that gets into your ear doesn’t dry out,” St. Germain explains. “It gets stuck behind wax or you get enough in there that it has a hard time getting out.” The condition is uncomfortable or even painful, and the moist environment encourages bacterial or fungal growth.

“There are a couple of things you can do to prevent it, and one thing is making sure your ears get dry after swimming. Use a hair dryer on a lower setting, keeping it at least one foot from the head,” she said. Over- the-counter eardrops may be helpful, or a home solution of one part white vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol; simply place several drops into each ear and tilt out the liquid.

“That dries out the ear, but also prevents bacteria and fungus from growing, because it has a little bit of an antiseptic property to it, too,” St. Germain says.

Another condition is chlorine sensitivity, St. Germain says.

“Chlorine is a chemical and it can be an irritant to some people,” she explains. Symptoms may include skin rashes and itchy, sensitive eyes, but a true allergic response is uncommon. St. Germain advises that children who seem sensitive to chlorine rinse well after swimming and shower or bathe at home later, and use saline eye drops if needed. “Kids that have a true allergic response can pretreat with antihistamine,” she says.

She also points out that sensitivity to chemically-treated water is better than the alternative: exposure to contaminated water. Small bodies of water on private property, public lakes that prohibit swimming, and any water that smells or looks bad are not good choices for swimming, she says. Public pools’ staff should monitor water quality throughout the day, and swimming lakes should also be regularly checked.

“If you’re an otherwise healthy person who has a good immune system, your body is going to take care of those tiny amounts of bacteria that might get in,” St. Germain says. “You don’t want your two-year-old swallowing large amounts of water, and if you have a kid who is immune-suppressed, you might not want them splashing around in a lake full of bacteria. A bigger lake with a more diverse ecosystem is probably more self-regulating.”

She also points out that small backyard pools with no filtering system can quickly become stagnant. “I always tell parents: ‘As soon as you’re done with that kiddie pool, drain it.’”

And the most important way to keep swimming safe? “The recommendation from the Academy of Pediatrics is that all kids over the age of 4 have swimming lessons,” St. Germain says.


Fighting Asthma

September 14, 2014 by

Over the past five years, the Nebraska school system has taken an active role in helping families, students, and schools in the treatment of life-threatening asthma and allergic reactions. A protocol for the treatment of life-threatening emergencies requires that three individuals in every school building be trained to respond to the treatment of symptoms of a child with life-threatening asthma or allergic reactions. Taking care of children with asthma/allergies at school has become a priority since children spend the majority of their day with peers and staff.

Boys Town Allergy, Asthma & Pediatric Pulmonology offers some helpful reminders for both parents and schools.


  • See your child’s doctor annually 
  • to review his/her medications 
  • and treatment plan.
  • Notify the school of your child’s 
  • asthma or allergy.
  • Submit any medical history, health status and treatment plans.
  • Include a list of asthma triggers.
  • Send a list of emergency contacts, including names to contact if you are not available.
  • Talk with your school nurse/principal about how to respond in an emergency attack.
  • Leave a set of medications at your child’s school with detailed instructions on how to administer medicine if an attack should occur.
  • Talk with your child about the use of his/her medications at school.


  • Review the written emergency plan with the child’s parents at least once a year to make sure there have not been changes or updates.
  • Know exactly where the child’s medicine is stored and how to administer medicine if necessary.
  • Understand the trigger signs for an asthma attack.

Review the school’s protocol for emergency situations. Remember that asthma and allergy attacks can strike at any time, that’s why Nebraska requires that children have access to lifesaving medications. Children are able to carry their own inhalers and other medications needed for asthma or allergy attacks and schools have Epinephrine (EpiPen®) on hand for emergencies.

The EpiPen® is easy to administer and store, and is available in two strengths to support weight-based dosing. An injection of epinephrine can be given within minutes after a serious reaction begins and can be lifesaving for the child, allowing time to get to the emergency room for further treatment, and it gives the child relief of airway constriction.

All Nebraska schools are prepared to respond to life-threatening asthma and allergic emergencies. Families, physicians, and schools working together can make a difference in a child’s asthma and allergy condition. Parents can rest a little easier knowing that schools in Nebraska are ready to take care of children with asthma or allergic reactions.

Kevin R. Murphy, M.D.
Boys Town National
Research Hospital


The Bennetts and Their Little Bit of Luck

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Family life is hectic for everyone. Kids, work, school functions, sporting events…the list goes on and on. Add a family pet into the mix and it’s enough to make you wonder how it all gets done.

Angela and Rick Bennett of Bellevue have one such family. With four school-age children, they faced a question: “Is a dog one member too many?”

A few years ago, the Bennetts were looking for a dog to bring into their family. “We needed a dog that didn’t shed,” explains Angela. Two of her children, James, 12, and Julia, 7, have allergies. “We had a list of very specific breeds and thought we were going to have to look around for a while.”

As luck would have it, the family stopped into the Nebraska Humane Society on the same day that a Lhasa-Poo (a cross between a Lhasa Apso and a Poodle) puppy was put up for adoption—and his name just happened to be Lucky.

“In the beginning, the kids promised to do a lot of the work,” recalls Angela. For the most part, she says that they have kept their end of the bargain, with everyone taking turns cleaning up after Lucky, feeding him, and walking him.

She shares that her husband, Rick, made sure that each child had his or her own responsibilities in caring for Lucky, allowing the new family member to bond with everyone. Angela admits that it was difficult in the beginning. “When we first got him, he wasn’t nearly as easygoing as he is now,” she says. The Humane Society identified Lucky as a family-friendly choice, but the screening process can sometimes be an imperfect science. Lucky’s adjustment to his new home took some work. Angela says that he had a hard time getting used to the kids.

“When they would touch him, especially when he had some food in his dish, Lucky would bite them,” she says. Concerned by this behavior, Rick started to wonder if they might need to give the dog away. “We wouldn’t have given him away just because we didn’t want him, but obviously we didn’t want the kids—or their friends—to get hurt.”


In an attempt to save Lucky, 15 year-old Erica closely observed the dog’s behavior and came up with a list of ten rules, written in Lucky’s voice, that each family member should follow. A copy was hung in each child’s bedroom.

Rules such as “Don’t bother me when I’m eating or have my bone,” “When I’m asleep, leave me alone…I’m not in the mood to play,” and “If I walk away, don’t grab me or keep me back” topped the list.

“I think it was mostly due to Erica’s rules that [we were able to keep] Lucky,” says Angela.

Anna, age 10, reminded her mother of another helpful hint: “Close the zipper on the trampoline, and don’t leave a stool out there when it’s open.”

After making a few other adjustments, such as crating Lucky during meals so that he wouldn’t beg for food, things are running smoothly at the Bennett home.

“Lucky is pretty laid-back,” says Angela. “He loves to sit at the door and just look out. But when he sees another dog, he gets a little crazy.”

Though Lucky is rather territorial, he does enjoy playing at the dog park. “Once he’s off his leash, he gets along with the other dogs. He’s never gotten into a fight with another dog at the park.”

The idea of bringing home a new dog is always fun and exciting. But soon reality sets in and difficult issues need to be worked out. Will the kids follow through on their responsibilities? How will Fido interact with the children?

“It’s a big commitment!” says Angela. Thankfully, for the Bennetts, they were able to find a way to resolve these unexpected issues within their own home and keep Lucky as a part of their family. “It was a little touchy with him [at first], about how he reacted to the kids,” says Angela. But she offers this advice: “Pay attention to the dog’s personality and be patient with the interaction between the dog and the kids.

“This is really corny, but we always said we were ‘Lucky’ to find him,” says Angela.