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Published on March 21, 2012

The Mild Winter Brings An Early Spring - And Allergies

Springfield, Pa.--According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), approximately 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. This year, an unusually mild winter kept freezing temperatures and snow only a distant memory of last year. However, the mild winter has allowed pollen season to arrive much earlier than normal, which is the last thing those who suffer from spring allergies and asthma want to hear. 

The spring allergy season usually starts in March or early April, but as a result of this year’s mild winter, some people have started to experience allergy symptoms early. 

“Because of the mild winter and a lot of rain, there will be a pronounced growing season with high pollen counts,” says Sandra Gawchik, D.O., co-chief of Allergy and Immunology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. This is unfortunate news to the millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies. 

“The tree season has definitely started—about three weeks early, and tree pollen levels are worse than they have been in quite some time,” says Anthony Rooklin, M.D., co-chief of Allergy and Immunology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “The mild winter allowed mold to linger. Together with tree pollen, it could make for a miserable spring for those who suffer from seasonal allergies.” 

Thankfully, there are some simple ways you can fight spring allergies and live symptom-free. “Pollen counts tend to be the highest in the morning,” Rooklin says. “So keep windows closed, wash clothes that might have been pollinated, and shower before going to bed.” Once pollen is inside it can stick to your clothing and hair, causing major problems. 

“Exercise in the late afternoon/evening, because most pollinating plants pollinate between 6 and 10 a.m.,” Gawchik says. “Have a pollen-free environment inside your home,” she continues. “Clean overhead fans, close windows, don’t hang clothes outside to dry, use the air conditioner, and don’t let your outside pet in your bed. 

“If you’re not certain about what you’re allergic to, contact someone who is board-certified in allergy because they can help you find out,” Gawchik says. Spring allergies can make you feel miserable. You’re tired, sneezing, blowing your nose, and have itchy or watery eyes. When you’re experiencing these symptoms, all you want is relief. 

Over-the-counter or prescription medication is a common way to treat allergy symptoms. Antihistamines and decongestants, generally available in pill and spray form, are helpful in relieving symptoms. However, if a non-prescription medicine doesn’t work, an allergist can prescribe something a little stronger, or an inhaled antihistamine or corticosteroid nasal spray.  

Another alternative is to receive allergy shots. “Allergy injections are also called ‘immunotherapy’ or ‘desensitization shots,’” says Thomas Klein, M.D., chief of the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “Allergy injections treat allergic diseases such as hay fever, asthma and bee sting allergy. Shots start out weekly. They progress to every two weeks, then every three weeks and then every four weeks.” 

Klein advises that once you are placed on a monthly schedule to continue receiving allergy shots for at least one year. After one year on a monthly or maintenance schedule, and if allergy symptoms are under very good control, you may be able to stop getting the shots. “We usually think about stopping shots when the need for allergy medicines has decreased significantly,” he says. 

ACAAI and its allergist members alert people with spring allergies to be on the lookout for these five things that can aggravate suffering:

  • Eating raw fruits and vegetables — Many people with seasonal allergies also suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome (also called oral allergy syndrome), a cross-reaction between the similar proteins in certain types of raw fruits, vegetables (and some nuts) and the allergy-causing pollen. Klein states that “patients with the oral allergy syndrome may experience swelling and itching of their lips and mouth. Avoiding the foods that cause the reaction is one approach, but allergy injections to pollen may also decrease symptoms.”
  • Using the wrong air filter — Using an air filter to keep your home pollen-free is a good idea, but be sure it's the right kind.  “A HEPA filter is the most efficient air filter,” Klein adds.
  • Opening your windows — When your windows are open, the pollen can drift inside, so keep your house and car windows shut during allergy season.
  • Procrastinating — Get the jump on allergies by taking your medication before the season gets under way.
  • Self medicating — Perhaps you're not sure exactly what's making you feel awful so you switch from one medication to the next hoping for relief. Your best bet is to see an allergist, who can determine just what's triggering your symptoms and suggest treatment.  

“Just remember that there’s help available,” Rooklin says. “Nobody has to suffer.”  

For more information on allergies, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at www.crozerkeystone.org. Call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) for an appointment with a Crozer-Keystone allergist.

 

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