Blame the itchy eyes, the runny nose and wheezy rattle in your lungs this time of year on trees that are blanketing the world with pollen in their willy-nilly attempts to reproduce.
Alder and birch are the main culprits. But if you suffer from allergies, pollen from cedars and junipers, cottonwoods and poplars, maples and oaks also may be making you feel miserable — and tired.
“Malaise and fatigue are common complaints also for seasonal allergy sufferers,” says Dr. William Anderson, an allergy specialist for Asthma & Allergy Center of Whatcom County.
The tree pollen season lasts through April.
Nearly 36 million people in the United States suffer from hay fever each year, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. And more than 70 percent of people with asthma also suffer from allergies.
What’s more, those living in the Southeast are suffering what is reportedly the worst allergy season in more than two decades as a haze of yellow pollen, likely from pine trees, has blanketed the region while other allergists blame global warming for allergy seasons that are growing longer.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Whatcom County.
“I think in certain parts of the country it is a more significant allergy season this year due to weather changes,” Anderson says, “but I haven’t seen this here, except for one day about two weeks ago (in March) when the weather was hot and the pollen count for alder pollen was extremely high.”
If you’re suffering — symptoms include copious amounts of sneezing, a stuffed-up nose and pressure on sinuses, including sinus infection — here’s how to find relief, according to Anderson and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology:
• For those with mild allergies over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Claritin (generic form is Loratadine), can help as well as Nasalcrom nasal spray.
• Those with moderate to more severe symptoms could benefit from prescription nasal sprays such as Flonase or Nasacort to reduce and prevent the inflammation that occurs with “allergic rhinitis.”
“Most allergists will combine the nasal spray with an antihistamine, Loratadine (Claritin), Zyrtec, Allegra,” Anderson says.
• Eye drops to calm down itchy, red eyes could help.
• For those with severe symptoms who do not respond well to other forms of therapy, allergy shots are an option. They’re effective, Anderson says, but require regular visits to the doctor’s office for shots throughout the year. “Many patients have multiple allergies and get tired of taking multiple medications throughout the year that may not completely control symptoms,” he adds, “and feel the time commitment for allergy shots is worth it.”
• Close windows at night to keep pollen out of your home.
• Minimize early morning activity -- including morning workouts outside -- because trees release pollen from 5 to 10 a.m.
• Keep car windows closed.
• Try to stay inside when pollen counts are high, or on windy days.
• Don’t hang sheets or clothing out to dry as pollen can collect on them.
• Consider taking a vacation during the height of the allergy season to an area that’s not drowning in pollen. A beach is a good bet.
• Rinsing nasal passages with saltwater will help rinse out pollen.
• When possible, such as when working in the yard, wear clothes or a hat that can be shed before entering your home.
• Kids, who typically start experiencing allergy symptoms at age 4 or 5, can get help from most of the same medicine used by adults, at a lower dose.
• Children could face particular challenges come mid-May through mid-July, when grass pollen season kicks in. That’s because the pollen is released by grass that’s several feet tall. “When children who are about the same height and have allergies play in this tall grass, their face and upper airway — nose and mouth and eyes — are in the very thick clouds of pollen coming off the tall grass and into their face,” Anderson explains. Their eyes can become “quite inflamed and the eyelids very swollen,” he adds, saying this is often the first sign of seasonal allergies in children.