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Spring Allergy Outlook

Cold or Allergy?

It’s easy to confuse allergy symptoms with those of a cold, says Luz M. Fonacier, MD, chief allergist at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY. Just look at the symptoms:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Postnasal drip
  • Itchiness in the nose and throat
  • Swollen, watery, itchy eyes

How do you know the difference? If your symptoms don’t clear up in a week or so, it’s likely your stuffy nose and sneezing can be traced to allergies, Fonacier says. At that point, she recommends seeing an allergist to find out just what you’re allergic to. And if you have severe allergies, pollen can trigger asthma attacks.

“Once you know what it is, you can avoid it, and avoidance is the most important thing,” she says.

Allergy Relief

Here are Fonacier’s tips for periods of high pollen:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Don’t mow the lawn or do other outdoor work.
  • If you have to go out, take a shower when you come back in.
  • Wear a mask when you have to be outside.

Over-the-counter and prescription medicines can be used to relieve your symptoms. But, Fonacier says, it’s important to start taking those medications before allergy season begins.

“You’re better off preventing the symptoms from coming than trying to take care of them once they’re already there,” she says. “Take your medication as prescribed, take it early, and take it regularly.”

Finally, you may need to consider allergy shots, which can combat the specific allergens that trouble you. At first, you’ll get increasingly potent shots once or twice a week. Once you reach an effective dose, you can expect shots every 2 to 4 weeks.

The Long-term Outlook

Pollen counts may grow even higher in coming years, Fonacier says. “It’s getting worse as a result of global warming. It’s slowly but steadily increasing, as is the number of people with allergies.”

There is a bright spot, though, for some people with allergies: Relief will likely come in your 50s or 60s. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘I had bad allergies, but I grew out of them,’” Jacobson says.

In general, she says, you’ll have unpleasant symptoms over a number of decades, from your teen years through your 40s. You’ll probably have the most discomfort in your 20s.

And if you’re thinking about moving to get away from allergies, think again. Allergists seldom recommend it, because you might escape one allergy only to develop another one in a new area.

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