The Medical Minute: False start could lead to unpredictable allergy season

Original source:

March 30, 2017

The good news for those who suffer from seasonal allergies is that the misery may be delayed by the snow and cold that crept in mid-March.

The bad news is that those who are affected by both tree pollen and grass may be in for a double whammy if the two allergens overlap in early May.

Dr. Timothy Craig, an allergy physician at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, said the tree pollen season started early because of unseasonably warm winter days in late February. But then the late-winter snow and cold shut down things for a while.

“Some of the early bloomers like maple – their flowers got killed,” he said. “But we can’t tell if the bloom is over or not. It’s going to be a strange season and hard to predict what will happen.”

Dr. Faoud Ishmael, an allergy physician at the Medical Center, said spring is always a tough time for allergy sufferers in this part of the country because of the large number of trees, grasses, weeds and allergens, but preventative measures can go a long way.

He recommends that those who have a tendency to be affected by tree pollen levels begin taking their allergy medicines now to get on top of things before symptoms start.

Ishmael tells his patients not to sleep with the windows open and to save outdoor time for evenings when pollen counts tend to be lower and pollen-transporting breezes are calmer. Showering and changing clothes after being outdoors – especially before going to bed – also help keep allergens outdoors.

When preventative measures don’t work, over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal antihistamines and nasal steroids often help.

“Usually people get multiple symptoms, so one medicine may help with some symptoms but not another,” he said. “Frequently you have to combine them.”

That’s typically safe, but he does warn against prolonged use of oral or nasal decongestants, which can cause a rebound effect after several days of use when the body has grown accustomed to it and the allergens return worse than they were before.

Craig said if over-the-counter remedies don’t alleviate symptoms, it may be time to see your doctor. “When they have tried all that and still don’t have things well controlled, some people may need oral prednisone,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the only thing that works when the symptoms are bad.”

Those who are affected by multiple allergens throughout the year may want to consider testing, and allergy shots can be an option when medications are not controlling symptoms. “Those can be very effective,” Ishmael said. “That way they don’t have to spend long periods of time feeling miserable.”

Tips for Outdoor Living with Allergies

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
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Do allergies keep you indoors on nice days? Try these tips to enjoy outdoor living, gardening, and hiking despite your allergies.

  • Thick of It: Is the grass getting high? Wear a mask if you’re mowing. Nothing fancy — an inexpensive painter’s mask works fine.
  • High and Dry: Pollen counts are highest on hot, dry, windy days. Check the forecast before making plans.
  • Good Scents, Bad Sense: Allergic to insect stings? Don’t wear scented deodorants, perfumes, shampoos, or hair products. Carry an epi pen when hiking.
  • Orange or Red Alert? Skip outdoor exercise. High pollution levels make allergens even more potent.
  • Born to Run? Move the morning jog (or walk) to evening. Peak pollen and mold time is 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Soothe the Itch: Relief itching from poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Put wet compresses on the rash. Calamine lotion or antihistamine pills also help.
  • Got Sunglasses? Don’t forget to wear them. Shades keep pollen out of eyes — plus they protect against harmful UV rays.
  • Checking In: Does a quick jog or a bike ride leave you wheezing and sneezing? Before heading out, check pollen counts. Or join a gym.
  • Poison Plant Smarts: Don’t let your pets run in wooded areas near poison ivy, poison oak, or sumac. They can carry the oil home on their fur.
  • Preemptive Attack: Next year, get the jump on allergies. Start allergy medications a few weeks before pollen season starts.
  • Back-Up Plan: Warm, breezy mornings have the highest pollen counts. Cool, rainy days have the lowest. If you love the outdoors, plan your days.
  • Ragweed Alert: If you’re allergic to spring pollens, you’re likely sensitive to ragweed in the fall. Ragweed flourishes this time of year
  • Just Do It: Love hiking, golfing, biking? Don’t let allergies control your life. See an allergist. Treatment makes all the difference.
  • Weather Alert: When a thunderstorm rolls through, prepare for an allergy attack. The wind stirs up mold spores and tiny pollen particles.
  • Rake It In? If you’re allergic to mold, avoid raking leaves — or wear a mask. Store firewood outside.
  • Shower With Love: Pets bring pollen indoors. It’s best to hose down the dog before letting him inside.
  • Pollen Patrol: At the end of the day, a spritz of saline spray clears pollen from nasal lining — so you breathe easier.
  • Drizzly Days: On cool rainy days, pollen count is lowest. Dress right for the drizzle — and enjoy your run or walk. What’s a little rain?
  • Bundle Up: Cold air can irritate sensitive airways. If you’re exercising outdoors on a cold day, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf.
  • Face Mask: If you run, put a bandana over your nose and mouth. Wear goggles. This protects lungs and eyes from allergens.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 08, 2008

Tips for Hiking with Allergies

If you get caught hiking in the wrong season, try one of these trail-proven tricks to mitigate your allergy symptoms.

  • Time hikes for mornings, when plant pollens are heavy with dew.
  • Sit tight when the wind blows. “Breezy days are going to be worse,” says Richard Honsinger, Ph.D., a clinical professor at the University of New Mexico, “because pollens can drift in the wind for hundreds of miles.”
  • Pick trails and tent sites above tree line. You’ll find the fewest irritants on rocky terrain.
  • Find a lake and pitch camp on the downwind side. The water may collect allergens as the wind blows them across, says Kim Spence, M.D., a family physician and backpacker based in Carbondale, CO.
  • Avoid the irritants completely. If you’re allergic to juniper, head east into forests of oak and elm.
  • Load up on antihistamines. Nondrowsy drugs such as Allegra, Claritin (available over-the-counter this spring), and even the asthma medication Singulair can work wonders in stopping allergy symptoms. Ask your doctor.
  • Try saltwater. Caught in the woods without your meds? Flushing your eyes and nose with saline removes the allergens and can dramatically improve your symptoms, says Dr. Spence.

Original source: 

Gardening with Allergies

Are you taking advantage of the extra spring daylight to plot out this year’s garden? Don’t forget to take seasonal allergies into account when you’re deciding which flowers, shrubs and trees to plant.

Gardening should be a joy. But it can become a bother if working in your yard leaves your eyes itchy and your nose stuffed up.

Those are just a few of the classic signs of seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. It’s often caused by pollens and mold. The symptoms can include:

  • Sneezing.
  • Itching in the nose, mouth, throat or eyes.
  • Tearing eyes.
  • Stuffy or runny nose.
  • Dark circles under your eyes.

If you have asthma, you might experience wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath too.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce allergy aggravation and reclaim your garden fun.

1. Focus on allergy-friendly flora

Some types of greenery co-exist with allergies better than others, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Some friendly flora include:

  • Cacti.
  • Cherry trees.
  • Dahlias.
  • Daisies.
  • Geraniums.
  • Hibiscuses.
  • Irises.
  • Magnolias.
  • Roses.
  • Snapdragons.
  • Tulips.

On the other hand, species likely to cause trouble include ash, cedar, cottonwood, maple, oak and pine trees, as well as Johnson, rye and Timothy grasses.

2. Plan your planting time

Of course, you can’t keep all offending pollen out of your yard. So try to plan your time outdoors to reduce your contact.

For example, pollen levels tend to peak in the morning. They’re also high when it’s windy and warm outside.

You might also want to sign up for email alerts from the National Allergy Bureau detailing the pollen counts in your area. That way you can avoid spending too much time outdoors on days when your allergies are most likely to be irked.

3. Protect yourself from pollen

When you do head outdoors, take additional steps to keep pollen away, such as:

  • Wearing a pollen-filtering mask.
  • Leaving your gardening gloves and shoes outside.
  • Showering immediately after gardening to wash pollen away.

The take-home message

If allergies are bothering you, talk with your doctor. You might be referred to an allergist who can help you find—and then avoid—the source of your symptoms.

Take this hay fever quiz to find out how much you know about seasonal allergies.

Allergy Timeline
  • Grasses start to pollinate in May and June, but can continue through the summer at higher elevations.
  • Sagebrush, ragweed, and tumbleweed pollinate in the fall.
  • Trees release billions of pollen cells in early spring, often before leaves appear.
  • Molds can release spores for much of the year if their habitat remains moist.

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The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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