Allergy season ready to spring, experts say

Spring has sprung, heralding higher temperatures — and, before long, the release of tree pollens that trigger allergy symptoms.

How severe will this allergy season be?

“That’s hard to predict,” said Dr. F. Ida Hsu, an allergist, immunologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven. “Every year, somebody thinks it’s going to be the worst year ever.”

Pollen counts, the level of ground moisture and temperatures help determine the severity of an allergy season. The earlier spring arrives in earnest, the earlier an allergy season begins.

“Last year, we had a late thaw, but once it warmed up, it was intense,” Hsu said. “The end of April was miserable, early May was miserable.”

A warmer spring this year than last suggests the sneezing will start early next month.

Dr. Mahesh Netravali of Shoreline Allergy & Asthma Associates, which has offices in East Lyme and Mystic, agreed that allergy season is all but upon us.

“We’re not even out of March yet and I’m seeing some budding,” he said. “Whatever the reason, we’re having milder winters and warmer weather than we did 20 or 30 years ago. ... That increases the amount of pollen.”

While trees are the culprits in the early spring, grass pollens take over in late spring to early summer before giving way to pollen from weeds in the fall. Regardless of the pollens’ source, the symptoms they induce are the same: nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing and red, itchy eyes that are sometimes accompanied by watering and puffiness. While allergy symptoms can be confused with those of the common cold, dry eyes (redness) or a sinus infection, sufferers usually can tell the difference, Hsu said.

"The hallmark of allergies is a lot of itching and sneezing," she said. "Mucus should be clear, not yellow, green or bloody."

The severity of symptoms varies from individual to individual, with some people sensitive to all kinds of pollens throughout the spring, summer and fall, and others affected by only certain ones.

There are more allergy sufferers than ever before, said Netravali, who along with his colleagues treats children as young as 4 years old.

Hsu said sufferers can minimize their exposure by staying indoors during mornings and on dry, windy days when pollen counts are high. After being outdoors in allergy season, it can help to change one’s clothes, shower and wash one’s hair. Dogwalkers should wipe down their dogs.

When indoors, it makes sense to keep the windows closed and an air-conditioner on.

Antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants and eye drops — many available over the counter — are generally effective in combatting allergy symptoms. A person who can’t get relief from medications or who wants to brave the outdoors may be a candidate for immunotherapy treatments that reduce the body’s sensitivity to pollen. Such treatments require an allergist to administer injections year-round.

FDA-approved sublingual (under the tongue) tablets are available for treatment of grass and ragweed pollen allergies, Hsu said.


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