It seemed as if summer would never get here. Like an uninvited guest, Old Man Winter stuck around well into spring, but for those of us in the northern states, happy days are here again. The days are warmer, brighter and longer, yet more than 30 million Americans have a bittersweet feeling about this time of year. This is when pollen and mold spores reintroduce themselves to the noses, eyes and lungs of allergy sufferers.
Tree pollen season got off to a late start because of the unseasonably cold spring weather but it’s well under way in most parts of the country. In my neck of the woods, the Midwest, grass pollen levels have skyrocketed and along with tree pollen forms the “dynamic duo” of outdoor allergy triggers. But unlike Batman and Robin tree and grass pollen are not out there to rescue you from bad experiences. On the contrary, people allergic to tree and grass pollen may be saddled with horrible common cold like symptoms for the next several weeks.
How can you tell the difference between common cold symptoms and nasal allergy?
Common cold symptoms are the result of an upper respiratory tract infection caused by over 200 viruses (rhinovirus is the most common one). Common colds are more prevalent during late fall and winter but may occur any time of the year. Seasonal allergy often referred to as hay fever, surfaces in the spring, summer or fall. The major difference between these two perpetrators of ill health is how long they last. Common cold symptoms shouldn’t last more than ten days whereas seasonal allergy symptoms typically hang around for two to three months or longer.
Other distinguishing features of the common cold may include: thick, discolored (yellow or green) mucus, occasional mild fever and muscle aches. Seasonal allergy is not associated with fever despite the use of the term “hay fever”. Muscle aches and pains are not associated with nasal allergy. The nasal secretions are usually clear in the setting of seasonal allergies.
Should you stay indoors during tree and grass season?
Allergists are trained to identify allergy triggers and orient patients/parents to avoidance measures. Although staying indoors would greatly reduce exposure to seasonal triggers it’s not practical for children or adults, and not fun. Preparation for seasonal allergies allows many people to enjoy the warmer seasons with minimal symptoms.
Here is what you need to do:
1) You need to know what you are allergic to in order to maximize your response to treatment. Have you been tested for allergy triggers? Ask your doctor about allergy testing.
2) Once allergy triggers have been identified a treatment plan should be formulated focusing on avoidance and medication. Review treatment strategies for allergic rhinitis. If you are on a steroid based nasal spray have your nasal spray technique checked.
3) Although staying inside all the time is not one of our recommendations, timing your outdoor activities can be helpful. If grass or tree pollen is a major trigger, planning outdoor events in the late morning or afternoon may reduce pollen exposure. It also gives time for morning doses of long acting antihistamines to kick in (for example cetirizine [Zyrtec], fexofenadine [Allegra] or loratadine [Claritin] to take effect).
4) Avoid yard work if you can but if there’s no one else to do it for you follow the above steps as well as review Kathi MacNaughton’s recent posting on “Seasonal Allergies and Gardening” (see below).
5) Track pollen counts periodically in order to maintain an awareness of what’s out there.
6) Keep your home and car windows closed and run the a/c as much as you can. This helps to reduce dust mite and mold growth and as well filter the air (although not nearly as efficient as an air filter device).
7) If you fail to respond to the above measures consider allergy shots. Many patients who suffer from seasonal allergies are able to reduce medications and enjoy outdoor activities once they have been effectively desensitized.
You shouldn’t have to seek shelter from outdoor allergy triggers during summer months. Follow the above tips and review the links. Post questions if any information is unclear. Take control of your allergy problems by learning more about diagnosis and management. This site is loaded with information and links to more information about airway allergies.
Published On: May 30, 2014