Sniffly? Health experts say beware of allergy season

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Spring is here! Although it’s exciting to see the flowers blooming again, to feel that fresh breeze before the summer heat heads our way, the combination of wind and flowers also brings in allergy season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021 about 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 5 children reported having seasonal allergies, eczema or food allergies in the U.S.

Dr. John Austin, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Valley Baptist Health System and chief medical officer at Valley Baptist-Harlingen, explained that spring brings exposure to pollens generated by trees, grasses, weeds and other plants.

Austin explained that these allergies produce tell-tale symptoms such as a runny nose, sniffles, sneezing, runny itchy eyes and ear congestion.

Viral or bacterial infections can produce similar symptoms but will also produce discolored discharge, fever and cough — all of which are not associated with allergies. Sneezing is also uncommon with a viral illness, according to Austin.

“If a patient develops a productive cough, significant facial or ear pain, a temperature, or discolored mucus, they should consider a trip to a doctor,” he said in a Valley Baptist news release. “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.”

If you are struggling with allergies, there’s no need to worry.

Austin explained that over-the-counter medications such as Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin work well to offer rapid relief for most allergy symptoms.

“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.”

These over-the-counter medications can help one get through allergy season which typically does not last long due to the summer heat reducing the amount of pollen in the air, according to the release.

The Associated Press also provided the following tips to help relieve allergy symptoms:

>> The best and first step to controlling allergies is avoiding exposure. To prevent allergy issues, keep windows closed at home and in the car, avoid going out when pollen counts are highest and change clothes when you get home.

>> Pollen trackers can help with planning. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology tracks levels through a network of counting stations across the U.S. Counts are available at its website and via email.

>> Experts say people should first figure out what they are allergic to, and many Americans are allergic to several things at once. Allergists can run tests for different triggers.

>> Over-the-counter nasal sprays can help relieve symptoms, but they take a while to kick in, so it’s best to start them as soon as possible, an expert said.

>> Antihistamines are another option. For young children and people who have to take many different allergy medications, immunotherapies in the form of shots and oral drops can help desensitize the immune system to allergens, treating symptoms at their root.