Submitted by Sandra Scalzitti, MD, pediatrician and internal medicine physician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group.
Spring is in the air. At least spring pollens are in the air.
Many people are affected by seasonal allergies, and spring and fall are typically the most active allergy seasons. Allergies may involve itchy, watery eyes, clear runny nose, itchy nose, sneezing, itchy throat and general stuffiness. Allergies may trigger cough or wheezing. Trees, grasses and flowers can all trigger spring, summer and fall reactions in Wisconsin. Molds, fungi, dust, animal danders and pollutants can cause reactions all year.
If you know you always have allergy symptoms in the spring you should consider taking a controller medication, like an antihistamine, every day throughout the season.
These medications work best if taken before exposure to the trigger. Antihistamines are available over the counter and by prescription. Benedryl (diphenhydramine) is one of the oldest and one of the most sedating. Avoid driving with this one. It is also one of the more short acting and may need to be taken every six hours.
I generally recommend a longer lasting, less sedating antihistamine such as Claritin (loratadine) or Zyrtec (cetirizine). These may only need to be taken once per day, but they do work best before the exposure. Other controller medications available by prescription include Singulair which is a leukotriene inhibitor and nasal steroids (such as Nasonex, Veramyst, Nasocort and others). For very bad reactions a person may take an antihistamine plus a nasal steroid, plus Singulair. If that doesn’t work an allergist may consider allergy shots to block a person’s response to the offending trigger or other medications.
For some people who only get eye symptoms they may respond well to either prescription or over the counter eye drops. When we have mild winters and warmer springs allergy season starts sooner. Pollen counts are often posted on weather sites and some of our local allergists will also measure and post pollen data. Some people will avoid their allergies by staying indoors or being careful of where and when they go outside.
ABC News suggested this will be a bad allergy season. In general pollen counts have been increasing with warmer temperatures. Interestingly, spring allergies are often worse in big cities, presumably due to the combination of pollens plus pollutants. Rainy seasons with increasing molds and fungi will also irritate some people.
Allergies can start at any age. Some people will have them as children and find they get more manageable as they get older but others may not get their first allergy attack until they are in their 30s or 40s.