Ah, spring. It’s the time of year when the weather is warmer, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming … and pollen and mold spores are in the air.
For allergy sufferers, spring can be one of the most miserable times of the year.
Dr. Barbara Gentile, an allergist at Allegheny General Hospital, said people who are especially sensitive to pollen from trees, grasses, flowers and weeds have started to visit her office seeking treatment for their allergy symptoms.
“We’re already starting to see the tree pollen counts go up, and many people who are allergic are coming in with runny noses, sneezing, congestion, redness and watery eyes,” said Gentile.
More than 35 million Americans suffer from pollen allergies, acccording to the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Among them is 9-year-old Kaden Bennett, who doesn’t need a pollen count to tell him when allergies act up: His itchy eyes and sneezing and congestion – which make it tough to get a good night’s sleep – are telltale signs.
His mother, Melinda Bennett, a pharmacist, said her strategy to reduce Kaden’s symptoms is to “stay on top of it.”
As soon as allergy season begins, Bennett gives him Zyrtec during the day and Benadryl at night.
Being proactive is a good approach, said Gentile.
Now is the time for spring allergy sufferers to start taking antihistamines. Don’t wait until the pollen count starts to climb, advises Gentile.
“If someone’s already been diagnosed with allergies, they should start well before the peak of the season. It takes at least a week for many medications to take effect,” she said.
She offered other advice:
•Keep windows closed and at home and in the car, and use an air conditioner. The spring breeze may feel wonderful, but that breeze can carry pollen into your home, aggravating your allergy symptoms.
•Don’t let clothes hang outside to air dry.
•Wash your clothes and bed sheets often to get rid of pollen.
•Shower often to wash off any allergens that may be stuck to hair or skin.
Brian King, a pharmacist at Jeffrey’s Drug Store in Canonsburg, said allergy sufferers can choose from several effective over-the-counter remedies, including nasal sprays and oral antihistamines.
“Benadryl is probably the most effective, but people tend to stay away from it because it makes you drowsy.” said King.
Claritin, Allergra, Zyrtec and their generic counterparts are non-drowsy options.
King said allergy sufferers are also opting for natural alternatives, including stinging nettle, neti pots and quercetin, an antioxidant flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables like apples and onions.
When medications fail to control allergy symptoms, allergy sufferers can consider allergy shots.
Gentile said about 20 percent of allergy sufferers don’t get relief from allergy medications, and others decide to undergo the shots to get rid of allergies (the body treats the injection like a vaccine, resulting in the production of infection-fighting antibodies against the pollen, dust, mold or pet dander).
“Think about a shot if your symptoms are really troublesome, or if you can’t sleep or you can’t function at work,” said Gentile.
While effective for many, allergy shots don’t work for everyone.
Peters Township resident Kristen Hunt has been living with allergies since she was 7 years old.
“If it’s outside and it’s green, I’m allergic to it,” said Hunt, who also is allergic to dogs and cats, breaks out in a rash if she comes into contact with evergreens, and suffers from nonallergic rhinitis. “I always sound like I have a cold.”
After enduring weekly allergy shots for more than seven years and trying dozens of over-the-counter and prescription medications, Hunt decided to forego pills, sprays and needles.
Now, her only weapon in her battle against allergies is Puffs Plus Lotion tissues.
“I pretty much live with it. I’ve had allergies for so long that it’s just a normal way of life. What’s annoying about allergies is that you can’t tell if you have a cold or not,” said Hunt, who owns two dogs, tends to her flowers and and works outdoors throughout the year.
Hunt sleeps with two or three pillows propped up each night and can’t remember the last time she could smell or taste normally.
“You just learn to adapt. I’m done (with medication),” said Hunt. “I just load up on my Puffs.”