Pollen Vortex — Part 1 of 2

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April 29, 2014

Have you heard that this winter’s polar vortex is turning into the spring’s pollen vortex?  It’s true!  In my office, every spring we gear up for the high pollen count spring season.  This year, we have a fun name (pollen vortex) to accompany the misery.

The medical term for “hay fever” or pollen allergies is “seasonal allergic rhinitis.”   The number one symptom of allergic rhinitis is actually itching…itching of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat.  Other common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, and stuffy nose.  If your eyes are affected – you may have itchy, watery, swollen eyes – we call this “conjunctivitis.”  And if you have the whole kit and caboodle, meaning eye and nasal symptoms, we refer to it as “allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.”  

People will often ask me how they know whether they have allergies or a cold.  If your symptoms are due to allergy, you will not have a fever.  But if they are due to a cold, which is an infection, you can have an increased temperature, along with discolored nasal drainage.  Nasal drainage due to allergy is usually clear.  Additionally, if you notice that you “get sick” at the same time every year, let’s say from April to May, you may in fact have tree and/or grass pollen allergies.  

In Washington, we have many deciduous trees that can trigger allergies in the spring season.  Typically, the season starts towards the end of February, peaks mid April, and settles down in May, when the grass pollen starts to increase.  Grass pollen will peak around Memorial Day.  Usually in July we have a bit of a respite from the pollens but weed season will start mid August and last until the first frost.  So if you have pollen allergies to grasses, trees, and weeds, you could have allergy symptoms for three out of four seasons.  On top of pollen, you could have a dust mite, mold, pet, feather, or even cockroach allergy…these could give you year round symptoms.  Of course, you could have all of these allergies, and have chronic symptoms with seasonal flares.  

Sounds pretty miserable, and it is.  But we are here to help!  If you have questions about how to best treat your allergies, or whether your symptoms are in fact due to allergies, you should definitely see your doctor.  

An allergist would be able to sort out exactly what is triggering you (Dust mite?  Oak pollen?  Timothy grass?  Ragweed?  Your favorite cat?).  The first lines of therapy are medications and environmental controls.  If your medications are not effective enough, or you cannot tolerate them due to side effects, you may be a candidate for allergy shots, or “immunotherapy.”  Immunotherapy is a process of desensitization that helps your body become tolerant to the allergens, so you stop reacting strongly to the offending allergens. 

Next up…What can I do to make my allergies better?

Note to Readers: Every spring, Dr. Schreiber has been interviewed by WTOP on the subject of spring allergy.  To hear her interview this year, you can click on this link in your browser:


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