BROWNSVILLE — Blooming flowers, budding trees, and blustery winds are often the hallmarks of springtime in the Rio Grande Valley.
But for many local residents, springtime means allergy season and all the annoying signs and symptoms that accompany nature’s beauty. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), more than 50 million Americans suffer a variety of allergies each year, with allergies coming in as the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States.
During the spring, pollen generated by grasses, weeds, and other plants travels by wind and ultimately find their way into the eyes, noses, and lungs of local residents. For individuals who are allergic to these pollens, that exposure means the telltale symptoms, said Dr. John Austin, an ear, nose, and throat specialist with Valley Baptist Health System.
“Common signs of allergies include runny nose, sniffles, sneezing, runny itchy eyes, and congestion in the ears,” he said.
The signs and symptoms of allergies can often mimic those of a viral or bacterial infection, albeit with a few differences, said Dr. John Austin, an ear, nose, and throat specialist with Valley Baptist Health System.
“Typically, the initial discharge with allergies is not discolored, and allergies are infrequently associated with a temperature or fever,” he said. “Initially, allergies are not associated with a cough, and it’s uncommon to sneeze with a viral illness.”
There is some good news for allergy sufferers, however. Allergy season typically does not last long, as mild spring temperatures quickly make way for the sweltering heat of summer. The rising temperatures usually put the Valley’s blooming plants into survival mode, reducing the amount of pollen in the air. Austin also said that readily-available, over the counter medications normally do the trick and offer rapid relief for most allergy sufferers.
“The best initial treatment includes an oral non-sedating antihistamine over the counter medication, such as Zyrtec, Allegra, or Claritin. A topical decongestant combined with a saline nasal rinse can be effective in cleansing and moisturizing the nose. A mucolytic like guaifenesin will help thin the nasal mucus,” he said. “If there is pain associated with sinus pressure caused by allergies, over the counter pain medicine can be used. There are also specific over the counter antihistamine products that can be used for the nose, like Nasalcrom, and for the eyes, like Opticrom.”
While pollen allergies rarely cause serious medical issues, there are times where a trip to the doctor may be necessary, especially if something more severe has been mistaken for allergies. Another option that can only be offered by a medical provider is a short course of steroids, either orally or by injection, Austin said.
“If a patient develops productive cough, significant facial or ear pain, a temperature, or discolored mucus, they should consider a trip to a doctor,” he said. “If they experience shortness of breath or continued elevated temperature, a trip to an urgent care facility may be required, where additional tests such as a chest X-ray and a blood test may reveal other health issues.”