Got Allergies? Solutions for Seasonal Sniffles
Allergies on the Rise
If you're one of the approximately 40 million Americans plagued with allergic rhinitis -- the medical term for that stuffy, drippy nasal torture that often starts right about now as pollen counts reach their peak -- you probably greet spring with mixed emotions. You're ready to throw open the windows and head outdoors, but that springtime "ah" quickly turns into "ah-choo!"
Seasonal allergy symptoms are, well, nothing to sneeze at. They can go way beyond the sniffles and make your life miserable, says Gary S. Rachelefsky, MD, professor of allergy and immunology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "If you just don't feel well, or have unexplained headaches, recurrent sinus infections, chronic fatigue, chronic cough, even depression, it could be allergies." Too often you'll go undiagnosed and untreated because doctors look for other reasons for fatigue or headaches, he says. "They just don't think of allergies."
Patients often dismiss the possibility that allergies are behind their problems as well, especially if they didn't grow up with allergies. But it's not unusual to experience your first symptoms as an adult. "Perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the time, patients don't have any history of allergies as a kid," says Richard G. Gower, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). "That's why they come in thinking they have a sinus infection when many times it's allergic rhinitis."
And the problem is growing. "We're seeing a worldwide explosion of new cases of allergies," says Clifford W. Bassett, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine and otolaryngology at the Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York. "One reason may be that global warming and the overproduction of carbon dioxide leads plants to produce more pollen." In early spring you can blame the trees, which pollinate first, followed by grasses in late spring and summer, and then weeds from summer through fall. Global warming may also cause the allergy season to start earlier and last longer.
That's all the more reason to get treatment. "Many people just learn to live with their symptoms, but there's no reason to suffer," says Dr. Gower. Treatments today are more effective than ever, with fewer side effects. So don't be a martyr to misery -- you can breathe easier this spring by following our expert plan.