Spring allergies blooming
If you’ve heard that lately, spring allergies could be to blame.
The bad news is that pollen – the main culprit – is just starting to settle in for the season.
The good news is that consumers have more over-the-counter drugs to help.
Dr. Matthew Ellison, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Duke Medicine, said the pollen count in the Durham area is “fairly typical” so far this spring. But he wonders how the fluctuations in this winter’s weather might affect the rest of the season.
Ellison is already seeing patients with typical allergic reactions – red eyes, runny nose, wheezing and congestion.
Tree pollen is the first irritant to appear in spring, mainly from cedar, juniper, maple and oak, he said.
“Tree pollen goes on for quite a while, but then grasses will be the next thing to really pollinate,” Ellison said.
It’s common for people to suffer allergic reactions from trees and grass at the same time, often in spring and summer, when grass pollen is greatest. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) usually hits in the fall.
Another symptom, which can be life-threatening, is an asthma attack caused by a reaction to pollen.
“Pollen can create asthma for the first time, but that usually happens in a child,” Ellison said. “It could be that they had mild allergy symptoms in prior years during the grass season. Then, they might go on a hay ride or play in the grass and get a big load of pollen. That’s when the person can have a first bout of asthma.”
What’s the fix for seasonal allergies?
One way to reduce suffering is to avoid pollen as much as possible. That may include:
- Staying indoors.
- Showering and washing clothes when you get home, especially if you work outdoors.
- Wearing a mask when thick, yellow pine pollen is in the air. A mask won’t help with smaller types of pollen, which create most problems.
When those steps don’t help, over-the-counter drugs are the next line of defense.
They include nasal sprays and antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra and Benedryl.
If those measures fail, a visit to the doctor may be needed.
Physicians offer prescription medicines such as Singulair (montelukast sodium) for asthma and hay fever. Eye drops and allergy shots are other options.
They also can pinpoint the cause of an allergic reaction through skin and blood tests.
“Most people can use over-the-counter products if they suspect they have an allergy,” Ellison said. “You should get some benefit from them. If you feel a little better but not completely better, though, it might be time to see a doctor for further evaluation.”