by Dr. Roger Hicks
Even though it means the end of ski season, I love spring, when the rivers are full, the meadows are green, and the flowers and trees are in blossom. These are welcome sights for many people after a long cold winter, but for allergy sufferers the change of seasons can mean the start of weeks or months of discomfort.
If you find yourself experiencing watery eyes and a stuffed-up nose at the same time each year, you very well may have a condition called allergic rhinitis. Other symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and nose, postnasal drip (mucous draining down the back of the throat), sore throat and cough. Allergic rhinitis can also cause fatigue, irritability, reduced performance at school and work, and depression.
Even if you have been lucky enough to be allergy free through childhood and adolescence, you can develop allergies at any age. And you won’t be alone - experts estimate that somewhere between 10-30 percent of children and adults in America suffer from allergic rhinitis.
Allergies develop when the immune system of a person prone to allergies is triggered by exposure to antigens, which are molecules from certain substances. The most common things that cause allergies are dust mites, animal hair and dander, molds, and pollens. Allergy sufferers produce IgE antibodies and inflammatory blood cells when exposed to one of these antigens. They combine and release inflammatory chemicals, primarily histamine, the cause of most allergy symptoms.
Allergic rhinitis comes in two flavors: seasonal, also known as hay fever, and persistent. Whether a person has year-round or seasonal allergies depends on the cause. Animals and dust mites can be around us anytime, whereas pollens are present only at certain times of the year. In our area, a common cause of seasonal allergies is cedar trees, which bloom and release their pollen only in the winter.
Features of allergies and the common cold overlap and determining which is the cause of your symptoms can be a challenge, but here are some guidelines:
• A cold generally lasts five to ten days, the virus is more likely to strike in fall or winter. On the other hand, allergy symptoms last for as long as you are exposed, which could mean weeks, an entire season, or for some people all year.
• Tell-tale signs of a cold are fever and muscles aches. Allergies generally do not cause fevers or muscle aches and pains, while a cold, which is a viral infection, can do so.
Be it a cold virus or an allergy, relief can come quickly with the correct diagnosis, making it easier to enjoy all that spring has to offer. Figuring out what you are allergic to is important so that you can take steps to avoid or reduce your exposure.
For example, if you are allergic to cats, stay away from cats and places where they live. If you have seasonal allergies, use air conditioners and air filters during periods of peak symptoms, close the windows at home and in your car, and stay indoors when possible. Showering before bed to remove allergens from hair and skin can help reduce contamination of the bedding. Over-the-counter saline sprays and rinses can be used to wash allergens from the nasal lining after outdoor exposure. And, there are alternative and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, Ayurvedic and herbal remedies that can help.
If you still have symptoms, many times an over the counter steroid nasal spray, with or without a non-sedating antihistamine, can offer relief. If that doesn’t do the trick, or become severe, a trip to an urgent care facility such as Yubadocs may be in order.
A director of the Urgent Care Association of America from 2011 to 2017, Dr. Roger Hicks served as the Association’s treasurer and then secretary. He is a founder and current board member of the Urgent Care Assurance Company, a malpractice company specializing in urgent care. He is the founding President of the California Urgent Care Association. He is also the founding president of the South Yuba River Citizens League and served on SYRCL’s Board of Directors for 30 years.