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Springtime Could be Frightful for Seasonal Allergy Sufferers

Winter weather may have been delightful, but it’s made springtime downright frightful for many allergy sufferers.

Rising temperatures have lengthened the spring allergy season, because plants are pollinating earlier and longer, said Jeff Stokes, M.D., an associate professor of medicine with Creighton University School of Medicine and allergist/immunologist with Creighton Medical Associates.. In addition, an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is most likely resulting in more pollen being emitted, he added.

“For those who believe in global warming, that could be a factor,” Stokes said.

Ten to 30 percent of U.S. adults and up to 40 percent of all children suffer from hay fever. Those with a family history and young adults are most at risk. Allergies generally begin in childhood, peak in young adulthood and disappear as we get older, Stokes said.

When we talk about spring allergies or hay fever, we really are talking about allergic rhinitis (involving the nose) and allergic conjunctivitis (involving the eyes). Symptoms include itchy nose, runny nose, tearing eyes, sneezing and more.

In the Midwest this year, tree pollens have been the most likely culprit in March-April. Grass pollens will take over in May and June.

While it is impossible to avoid outdoor allergens, Stokes said, you can help minimize your exposure by keeping windows closed, using an air conditioner, avoiding the outdoors in early morning when pollen counts are highest, and wearing an allergy face mask when outside.

While there are effective over-the-counter antihistamines to treat hay fever, symptoms can frequently “break through,” Stokes said. When you are having trouble sleeping, encountering negative side-effects from medication, or just feeling plain miserable, it’s probably time to schedule an appointment with an allergist/immunologist.

“The time to see a doctor is when it (allergies) is affecting your lifestyle,” Stokes said.

An allergist/immunologist, he noted, can help determine the best course of treatment for a patient with the end goal being to use the least amount of drugs possible.

For some, allergy immunotherapy or allergy shots may prove to be the most effective long-term treatment. The goal of shots is to increase your tolerance to allergens each time you are exposed to them so that, ultimately, you have few or no symptoms within three-five years. It also may prevent asthma in children, he added.