The sneezing season

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Spring may bring pretty flowers, but those flowers also mean allergies

Spring is easily the most beautiful time of the year.

An abundance of blooms and blossoms have added color to areas that were once filled with winter gloom. However, the pleasant change of scenery brings unwanted side effects for some.

That’s right – seasonal allergies. It’s time to stock up on tissues and medication again.

Trees have already started their annual pollination, releasing powdery clouds of potent pollen into the air.

Seasonal allergies encompass a wide range of grasses, trees and weeds that are present from early spring to fall, when tiny pollen particles are released into the air. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says about 40 million Americans have indoor and outdoor allergies.

Dr. Glen Watkins, Otolaryngologist at the Center for Ear, Nose & Throat Disorders with Willis-Knighton Health System, said allergy symptoms include itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy ears.

“It’s like you have a head cold that just won’t go away,” Watkins said. “If you have a head cold that has lasted more than two weeks, you’re most likely dealing with allergies.”

For people with seasonal allergies, symptoms come and go with the pollination seasons of certain trees, grasses or weeds. Pollen levels from these plants can vary day to day, depending upon several factors, including the weather. Warm, pollinating days followed by cold days, and then warm again, actually makes allergy sufferers have a stronger reaction to pollen.

Besides avoiding the outdoors altogether, those with pollen allergies are left to find ways to cope with the clouds of yellow dust that fill the air. Watkins said that “you can be a non-allergic child and be a very allergic adult or vice-versa.”

“It takes several seasons of exposure for the body’s immune system to develop a reaction,” he said. “With children, we don’t normally see environmental allergies, but food allergies. From about age five or six is when we see the development of tree, grass and weed allergies.”

Watkins said patients come into his Bossier City office throughout the year with allergy-related symptoms.

“Right now we have tree pollen, but that starts with cedar trees in December. Other hardwoods add to it in February, followed by pine trees. That tapers down as the grass allergens take over during the summer. Weeds begin pollinating in the fall and continue through December because of the weather we have here in Louisiana. Then the hardwood trees pick up again and we start the cycle over.”

The first step to allergy relief is medicating to reduce or relieve symptoms. Watkins favors antihistamines such as Zyrtec®, Allegra® and Claritin® for over the counter treatment.

“If you can’t avoid the allergen, inhaled nasal steroids can give you a good foundation of control,” Watkins said. “Oral tablets, which are over the counter medications, do pretty good for most people. The people with significant allergies, though, will need to use the nasal steroid spray with an oral tablet.”

One of the best treatments for allergies, Watkins said, is salt water nose spray.

“You can actually rinse the particles off the surfaces in the nasal cavity and reduce the symptom reaction,” Watkins added.

Other over the counter products include antihistamine eye drops to relieve itchy/watery eyes. Watkins said that allergy sufferers should avoid taking medications that excessively dry out the nose and nasal passage.

“That’s a big issue with first generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl. Taking those can lead to feeling more congested and also result in more nose bleeds.”

The best treatment, however, is prevention. Watkins emphasized that taking medications before allergy season starts is the most effective treatment.

If over the counter medications don’t work, Watkins said it’s time to think about getting an allergy shot, a process that includes confirmation of the allergy through a skin test or blood work.

Other ways to reduce allergy-related symptoms is to change clothes when getting home, leaving shoes outside and perhaps even showering to wash pollen particles out of the hair. If you work outdoors when pollen counts are high, wear a mask.

While there is no cure for allergies, symptoms can be managed with proper prevention and treatment.