Sneezing, itchy eyes, can't breathe through your nose...sound familiar? We may just be a week into spring but because of the unseasonably warmer weather many parts of the country have been experiencing, many experts predict that this might be the worst spring allergy season we've seen in more than a decade.
"It’s been a very mild winter, so pollen has appeared earlier in the year," says Dr. William Berger, MD, one of the nation's foremost experts on allergies and asthma. "Because of the earlier and heavier pollination of outdoor spring allergens, such as tree and grass allergens, this spring allergy season will be worse. The early release of these outdoor allergens suggests that this could potentially be the worst allergy season in a decade."
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
does a report every year ranking the most challenging cities for residents with allergies across the U.S. Based off the pollen count, how many allergy medications each patient uses and the number of allergists per patient, Midwestern and Southern cities typically rank higher than coastal or colder climates.
Top 10 Worst Cities for 2012 Spring Allergies
- 1. Knoxville, Tenn.
- 2. McAllen, Texas
- 3. Louisville, Ky.
- 4. Jackson, Miss.
- 5. Wichita, Kan.
- 6. Oklahoma City, Okla.
- 7. Chattanooga, Tenn.
- 8. Memphis, Tenn.
- 9. San Antonio, Texas
- 10. Dayton, Ohio
If you're in one of the top 10 cities have no fear. There is some good news, Berger says.
"Allergy season might be longer this year, yes," he says. "The irony is that when it gets warmer sooner it may get very hot sooner though, which may stop pollination earlier, too. If in June it gets to be nearing 100 degrees, pollination will mostly stop."
And just in case that doesn't happen or you're already sick of your spring allergies now, Berger has a few tips to help you deal. First, do anything you can do to avoid exposure to the things you are allergic to. This means keeping your windows and doors shut to limit the amount of pollen and mold entering your home or your car. Also, because trees tend to pollinate in the morning, try to plan your outdoor activities for later in the day to avoid this time of heightened tree pollen. Lastly, Berger recommends taking a shower before bed, taking special care to thoroughly clean your hair to remove the day’s collection of pollen and other allergens on your body. Vacuuming once or twice a week helps keep dust to a minimum, too, he says.
For more serious spring allergy cases people should see an allergist for treatments, but a handheld steam inhaler can help ease symptoms for most people — and it's drug free.
"Many patients will purchase antihistamines to treat symptoms," Berger says. "These medications can help with sneezing, running/itchy nose and other symptoms; unfortunately, the symptom which bothers patients the most, nasal congestion, is not treated well by antihistamines. One way we treat allergy and cold symptoms is by using steam, a natural decongestant."
If these important symptomatic treatments do not help, there are intranasal antihistamines people suffering from allergies can use. See an allergist to identify specific allergens and treat your allergy symptoms if they persist, he says.
No matter how you deal, it's important to take allergies seriously. They may be common, but allergies are the precursors to some of the most common chronic diseases, such as chronic sinus problems, nasal polyps and ear problems (due to the connection with the nose), he says. Allergies can also trigger asthma.
"An estimated 5,000 people visit the emergency room due to asthma each year in the U.S.," Berger says. "As a result, people should take their allergies seriously since they can have a serious effect your asthma — see a doctor if you’re not getting relief or your symptoms persist."
Do you suffer from spring allergies? Are they worse this year than last? Tell us about your experience and where you live!
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.