If your eyes are itching and your nose is running, chances are you know that allergy season already is starting up. So what's an allergy sufferer to do to make it through?
Dr. Anju Peters, a fellow allergy sufferer and an associate professor of medicine in the division of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, offers some tips to make this summer a bit more bearable for allergy sufferers. Here is an edited transcript of our interview:
Q: Allergy season is starting up. What are you seeing for this area already, and what does it look like this allergy season is shaping up to be (worst ever, normal, better than normal)?
A: As the winters are milder, we tend to see allergy season starting earlier. We think one of the things with climate changes is that allergy seasons are longer. Our winter, in general, was milder, so potentially we could have a worse allergy season.
Q: How can you tell if that stuffy nose is just a cold or if allergies are the cause?
A: Telling a cold from allergies is difficult, because people with allergies are prone to colds. In general, colds cause general symptoms, and allergies don't cause fever and chills. Colds get better over a week to 10 days in most people; allergies tend to last longer. People (with allergies) will have a history of having (symptoms) the same time of the year.
Q: What are some typical symptoms of allergies?
A: Typical symptoms of allergies are runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, eyes can get puffy. If people have more severe symptoms, like asthma, they can have difficulty breathing.
Q: For those of us who suffer seasonal allergies, what's the best treatment?
A: In terms of seasonal allergies, some of the things everyone can do is keep your windows closed. If you like to exercise outside, pollen counts are higher early in the morning, so you may not want to exercise early in the morning.
The other things you can do is change your clothes once you get inside the house (and) wear sunglasses to help keep the pollen out of your eyes. Try some over-the-counter antihistamines, the nonsedating ones. If those don't work, talk to your doctor about getting better medication, and if prescribed medication doesn't work, you may want to see an allergist.
Q: Since it's unlikely that we can stay indoors throughout allergy season to avoid pollen, do you have any tips on when it's truly best to stay inside and when it's not so bad to be outside?
A: Stay inside during early-morning hours — sunrise to about 10 a.m. ... Pollen counts are lowest later ... around 4 or 5 (p.m.). Right now, in the Midwest from the end of March to end of May, (the concern) is tree pollen; May to July is grass pollen, and the end of July to September is ragweed. Mold counts also tend to be higher in the summer until the first frost. The best thing to do is to get treated before your symptoms get bad.
A: What I tell people is take whatever over-the-counter medication that you feel your symptoms get better with. Benadryl is very sedating. (There are others) that are nonsedating or less sedating, so I recommend those. One of the simple things I tell people is do the saline rinses or salt water washes in the nose, because that will wash out some of the allergen that gets in the nose.
Q: Do you have allergies? How do you treat them?
A: I come from a strong family of allergies. It's part of the reason I went into allergy. I have more of a sinus problem, so I take nasal spray.