POLL: Do you suffer from seasonal allergies?
Spring is in the air, and so is pollen — an unwelcome sight for those who suffer from seasonal allergies.
The amount of tree pollen in the environment generally ramps up in February and March, but over the next weeks, grass pollen also will become a factor, said Dr. Curt Chaffin, a physician with the Allergy and Asthma Group of Galen.
"Springtime is definitely our busiest time of the year," Chaffin said, adding that about 30 percent of people have significant allergies.
Dr. Jeffrey Colburn, a family medicine physician at CHI Memorial Internal Medicine Associates, said this part of the country has ample vegetation to trigger allergies, which occur when the immune system overreacts to something like pollen that's normally harmless.
"But also one [allergy trigger] people don't think about, especially with the rain we've had, is there's a lot of outdoor mold," he said.
Many will forgo a trip to a doctor's office and treat their symptoms, which typically include runny nose, sneezing, congestion and itching around the face and eyes, using over-the-counter drugs. While these methods can be extremely effective, they aren't necessarily harmless.
Colburn said allergies often run in families and treating them can differ depending on a person's age and medical conditions.
For young children, he recommends the antihistamine Benadryl, which can sometimes cause drowsiness or hyperactivity. Children's Zyrtec is a good option for kids older than 2 years, he said.
Because youngsters are more susceptible to recurrent ear infections, he said, adults should be on alert for fever or nasty drainage that may indicate a more serious problem.
Teenagers and adults may want to try Zyrtec or Claritin combined with a saline nasal rinse, which he called "one of the best, underutilized treatments" to flush out irritants.
"A lot of people just don't like putting stuff in their nose, and it does take some getting used to," he said, "But it's safe and it has no medicine in it, so there's no reactions from it."
Both Colburn and Chaffin warned against prolonged use of Afrin nasal spray.
"If it's nighttime, and you can't breathe at all and you're absolutely miserable, you can take it then, but avoid taking it multiple times a day for over a week — it can be somewhat habit forming," Colburn said.
He also said older adults should take caution when using Benadryl.
"Sometimes, in the older, geriatric population, it can increase your fall risk," he said.
Chaffin said a lot of people who are experiencing nasal symptoms with seasonal changes may have something else, so if symptoms don't improve with at-home treatments, it's time to seek a proper diagnosis.
"I'd like for people to know that you don't have to live this way," Chaffin said. "There's ways to treat this to make life a lot better."
Often, the solution is as simple as pinpointing the allergen and avoiding it, he said.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.