Cough, sneeze, itch: Ready for spring allergies?
Cough, cough. Sneeze, sneeze. Itch, itch.
More flu? No, an early sign that spring allergy season is about to get underway in the Pioneer Valley. Your immune system's ready to launch its histamines to make your eye's water or nose sneeze to stop those invading tree irritants.
"I haven't seen a lot of patients yet - just a few - with spring allergies, but I will when we get a few more warm days," said Dr. Robert P. McGovern, who has spent 40 years helping patients manage their allergies.
McGovern estimates that winter's more influenza-like illnesses of upper respiratory and sinus infections, as well as asthma exacerbations, will be joined in about a week by spring's nasal allergies.
"The warmer weather causes trees to pollinate and this brings on allergic rhinitis," said McGovern, using the medical term for a condition that means "inflammation of the nose."
"On a warm, dry day, the wind blows the pollen around causing sneezing, itchy eyes and scratchy throats."
Allergies are on the rise, McGovern said, and called them an ongoing problem in the Pioneer Valley.
His remarks were echoed by Dr. Jonathan Bayuk of Allergy and Immunology Associates of New England.
"The Pioneer Valley has been a very fertile area for many hundreds of years," said Bayuk, of the many grasses and trees that grow here and are often buffeted by winds carrying air pollutants and pollen particles from the Ohio Valley.
"We are definitely looking at an early pollen season and there could be a constant steady stream of pollen production into June with tree root systems well watered for it from the rain, which is not good for those with tree pollen allergies."
McGovern said many people can generally manage their seasonal allergies with over-the-counter allergy eye drops, antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal corticosteroids.
"If someone's symptoms are not controlled, they should probably see an allergist and get skin-tested for more specific treatment," McGovern said.
He added that spring allergy season in the Pioneer Valley generally coincides with the season's calendar start in March, as trees begin to pollinate with the warmer days.
The powdery nature of pollen that helps with plant reprodution blows supreme as the main environmental irritant through the end of May when grass begins to sprout.
Outdoor mold spores, too, are an allergen as temperatures warm and, of course, fall brings ragweed. Animal dander can be a year-round irritant though worse for some in winter, McGovern said, because both pets and owners are inside together for longer stretches of time.
He added dust mites sometimes cause more of an allergic reaction in winter "when you first turn on the heat."
McGovern said his practice treats a lot of patients with allergic rhinitis, sometimes referred to as hay fever, as well as food allergies, and allergies to the venom of insects, like bees, and asthma.
He added he found it "nice to be able to help people" as an allergist.
He had a few closing suggestions for keeping the tissue box from depletion and the nose from soreness as spring allergy season progresses.
"You can reduce symptoms by staying indoors until 10 a.m. if you can, turning on the air conditioner to filter out the pollen and taking a shower after going outside to get the pollen off of you," McGovern said.