The calendar says it’s fall, but it seems that allergy season is still upon us, just in time to confuse everyone about what is actually making us all miserable. Blame the climate (wet spring, dry summer) for a bumper crop of ragweed pollen — making this season a particularly bad one for allergy sufferers.
Itching is the hallmark symptom of allergies. Itchy eyes, itchy nose and throat. The cough tends to be irritation, and not productive. You can have a very runny or congested nose but if it’s itchy, it’s probably allergic.
To control those symptoms, close up your house to keep most pollen outside. Change your furnace air filters—they have filters specifically designed to filter pollen. A HEPA portable air cleaner in your bedroom can lessen morning allergy misery. Soft surfaces such as carpet and drapes hold tons of pollen, so give them a good cleaning, and if you need a home-improvement project, banish the carpet (now you have an excuse). Hardwood or tile floors do not hoard pollen.
Antihistamines are the workhorses of the allergy world. Most people can find relief with Claritin, Allegra or something similar. However, monitor your blood pressure when using these meds; they can worsen hypertension, which basically means they can increase your blood pressure.
It is much easier to prevent allergy misery than to fix it. Take an antihistamine 30 minutes before being exposed to pollen. Some antihistamines work better for some people, so it is worth trying several types (but not at the same time). Antihistamine will work better for a longer period if you can take a break from them on days that you feel pretty good.
One of the most effective things you can do for allergies is see your doctor for a nasal steroid. These nose sprays coat the sensitized mucus membranes and reduces itching and burning of your poor nose, throat, eyes and sinuses (they are all connected on the inside).
If your symptoms start quite suddenly, or if you have fever, chills or body aches, we are not talking allergies. These are signs of a cold or the flu.
The flu season this year is almost all H3N2, the virus that gave us so much trouble last winter. The vaccine has been reformulated and is an excellent match for the virus this year (2015-16). You develop strong immunity one to two weeks after vaccination, and then you can cross flu off your worry list.
Why worry about whether your symptoms are allergic or infectious? If you are going to treat flu with an antiviral, you need to start right away. They do not make much difference if the medication is started more than two days after the onset of symptoms.
Bad allergies or even a bug? A quick trip to the clinic will sort it out and get you headed back to health.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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