On one hand, it's always allergy season. Something's always out there to turn some noses into faucets and spread misery throughout the land.
But for many people, fall and winter are prime time. Here's a look at the showdown between nose and nature, with scouting reports, coaching strategies and expert predictions.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, an inflammation of the nasal passages that causes sneezing, runny nose, congestion and itchiness in the nose, throat, eyes and ears. It's also commonly called "hay fever" because 19th-century researchers thought it coincided with the hay harvest. This is a separate malady from perennial allergic rhinitis, caused by such things as dust mites and pet dander that never go away.
ARE YOU IN THE GAME?
If it's a cold, which is a viral infection, it will probably be gone in five or seven days, says Dr. Jeffrey Adelglass, an allergy specialist. Allergies, on the other hand, go on and on.
Itchiness usually indicates allergies, Adelglass says, and fever means a cold. And pay attention to what's coming out of your sinuses. How can we put this delicately? Green is probably a cold, the doctor says; yellow is generally an allergy.
Pollen, a microscopic wind-borne particle necessary for fertilization, is produced by many plants and trees, but only a few types cause serious reactions in humans. Some of the main culprits:
Ragweed, a yellow flowering plant that releases its pollen in late summer and fall.
Mold spores, which grow in damp conditions and spread through the air.
The Web site www.pollen.com lists pollen counts around the country and includes forecasts for the next few days.
Consider them a simple allergy test. "If the numbers are high and you're having problems, chances are you're having allergies," Adelglass says.
DEFENSE I: AVOIDANCE
It's easier said than done and may not always help. But try these tips:
- Stay inside on high-pollen days, particularly in the morning.
- Wear a mask if you need to mow the lawn or work outdoors.
- Use air conditioners and filters. They can lower pollen counts inside homes and cars.
- Avoid irritants such as cigarette smoke, dust and polluted air that can make pollen allergies worse.
DEFENSE II: MEDICATION
To relieve symptoms, first try over-the-counter remedies, advises Dr. Mark Millard.
Antihistamines that have been available for many years, such as Benadryl, make many people drowsy. Now Claritin and its generic copies, which are less sedating, are sold without a prescription.
The next step up, Millard says, are nasal sprays with steroids, such as Flonase, which requires a prescription.
If those don't work, he says, the next options would be nonsedating antihistamines such as Allegra or Zyrtec, or other strong prescriptions.
"There's a billion-dollar industry that wants those prescriptions written, but the first prescription should be for a nasal steroid," Millard says.
DEFENSE III: A SEASON TICKET
By this we mean allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy.
"All the medications control the symptoms but don't control the allergy itself," says Dr. David Khan, who specializes in allergy and immunology. "The shots can make you less allergic."
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Millard advises patients who suffer allergies over three seasons to consider shots. Adelglass focuses more on the severity than the frequency.
The clearest reason, Khan says, "is that you're already on good prescription therapy from your doctor and it's not working."
MORE COACHING TIPS
Wash your eyes (with ocular saline solution) and nose (with salt water). "That clears some allergens out and can help," Millard says.
Shower before bed. "If you've been outdoors, the pollen can stick to your hair and get deposited on your pillow," Khan says.
Go away. "If you know you have problems every January, schedule an ocean cruise," Adelglass says.
(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.