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Allergies Are Nothing to Sneeze At

Jennifer Morse and her husband, Brian have seven kids and four of them have severe allergies. Their oldest, Scott, was 3 when the family got a kitten and the symptoms began.

One by one, Jennifer saw four of her children show the same symptoms: itching and scratching, difficulty breathing, swelled up, irritated eyes, runny nose and a stuffy head. "Every season, indoors or outdoors, it seemed like there was a problem," Jennifer remembers. "You always had to be concerned with the asthma part of it, whether they were able to breathe well. And that got to be kind of old after a while."

Recognizing that their children's allergies were nothing to sneeze at, the Morse family kept their floors rug-free, encased mattresses in special fabric, washed bed linens every week and worked with their doctors to do everything they possibly could to create an allergen-free environment for their children. "We had no wood stove, no stuffed animals," says Jennifer. "We had special filters in our central heating and air conditioning and changed the filters on time." Instead of cats and dogs, the kids had snakes, turtles and fish as pets.

But their efforts weren't enough and the family pediatricians prescribed medicines to control spring pollen allergies, hay fever in the summer, dust mites in the winter, and sneezing fits when the kids went to friends' houses.

Jennifer began to worry about how many prescriptions the children were taking day after day and year after year. "It got to where we had four medications for each child and then each child would be on a different medication," Jennifer says. "It got to be 'how do you keep track?'"

Almost by accident Jennifer met Dr. Kent DeYarman, board certified in allergy and immunology and in practice at the Allergy and Asthma Clinic in Medford. DeYarman tested the children and recommended a series of allergy shots to gradually desensitize the children to the substances that were causing allergic reactions. And over the next two or three years, Jennifer brought the children in twice a week, then once a week, then once a month, the intervals lengthening as the children built up immunity to the substances that once caused such severe allergic reactions.

According to DeYarman, patients can feel significantly improved after a series of allergy shots and the benefits can last for decades or even a lifetime. "With pollens, the success rate is up around 90 percent, bee stings around 99 percent, dust mites or cats probably 90 percent," reports Dr. DeYarman. Molds are more difficult to desensitize against.

At first Jennifer was concerned that the children would resist the allergy shots because of the pain of the injection, but the shot itself turned out to be a non-issue. Once the kids realized it was the shot that made them feel so much better, it was OK.

DeYarman agrees: "Everybody worries about the needle poke but the universal complaint is not the injection, it's the bother of having to come in and get it. Even little kids, after a while they don't care about the shots. It's just one more thing in their schedule."

Within three months of beginning allergy shots, the children were off most of their medications, could go outside to play without experiencing asthma-like attacks and for the first time, could stay over with friends who had pets. "For us, it definitely paid off to go to a specialist," says Jennifer.

"My husband couldn't wait for them [the boys] to mow the lawn but three of them are allergic to grass so one child gets to do the lawn mowing and the dusting." In a family of seven kids, though, there's enough work to go around and everyone has their own jobs, suited to their talents, abilities and specific allergies.

Hand washing, changing clothes, being aware of specific exposures and risk: "These are principles you have to develop for the rest of your life," says Jennifer. And while allergy shots don't work for everyone, they made an amazing change in the lives of the Morse family. "It doesn't mean that you can do everything like everybody else, but it does certainly make life more livable."

Allergies Are Nothing to Sneeze At