Believe it or not, tree pollen season is here in the Scenic City. As the buds on the trees begin to form and open, Chattanoogans are sure to start seeing that bright yellow powder that causes so much grief.
And allergist Dr. Todd Levin, with Chattanooga Allergy Clinic, says pollen symptoms are going to come with a vengeance this go-round due to something known as the priming effect. "The pollen is already here, but we got a slight dip in it with those cold snaps," he explained. "Due to this priming effect and the initial exposure, it really sets people up for more symptoms."
Common symptoms due to tree pollen and other spring allergens include runny nose, congestion, itchy and/or watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and increased asthma symptoms. Dr. Levin advised that people with known trouble to these allergies start treatment right away with antihistamines, nasal sprays and immunotherapy-allergy shots.
Studies show that patients who begin treatment early in the season have more success managing or preventing their symptoms.
"You should start your regular meds if you have them and be seen by your allergist so we can develop a customized treatment plan," said Dr. Levin. "If you're super-allergic, we need to start patients on shots and desensitize them to the allergens to prevent serious reactions and maybe even cure the allergies completely."
He added that for patients who experience great trouble due to tree pollen and other spring allergens, shots are the most effective long-term treatment, while antihistamines and sprays really only act as band-aids.
While around 50 percent of the population has some known form of allergy, there are some who should exercise extra caution during the tree pollen season, from around the end of February to early May, Dr. Levin said.
"The people we most worry about are our asthma patients," he said. "Those who are sensitive to the pollen may have congestion and end up breathing through their mouth. Since they bypass the filters in the nose, the pollen goes to their lungs, causing inflammation. They can end up in the ER or in the hospital, and we really want to avoid that."
He added that even though tree pollen starts to fade in May, grass pollen starts to appear by the end of April, so we are not out of the woods. However, there may be a new treatment option for patients who struggle during that season.
"There are two new tablets being developed, prescribed by allergists, to help treat grass pollen," Dr. Levin said. "It's the same idea of allergy shots, but with an oral pill."
The new pills are not as effective as allergy shots, he said, but they will be an option that patients can learn more about from their allergists.
Chattanooga Allergy Clinic treats all types of allergic disorders. There are five offices with seven providers in and around Chattanooga. For more information about spring allergies or to find an office near you, visit chattanoogaallergyclinic.com or call 423-899-0431.