By Elson Lim, MD, for Wausau Pilot & Review
Spring and summer in Wisconsin is long-awaited and beautiful, but not always for those who suffer from allergies. Grasses, weeds and trees can mean sneezing, a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.
According to pollen.com, Wisconsin is home to more than 130 varieties of trees, weeds and grasses that produce pollen. Nearly 35 percent of those varieties will cause moderate to severe allergic reactions between now and winter.
As plants begin to pollinate, one in five people will experience the uncomfortable symptoms of spring allergies.
Allergy sufferers have highly sensitized immune systems that work overtime. When pollen enters the body, their immune systems release histamines to fight the intruders. These overactive hormones are responsible for the irritating symptoms of allergy.
People can develop seasonal allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies at any point during life. In fact, many have suffered allergies for years, mistaking them for that miserable spring cold you get every year that seems to last until summer.
So, how can you tell the difference between and allergy and a cold? A quick look at the similarities and differences may help you decide.
- Do you have a runny nose? Are you congested or sneezing? These are the most common and irritating symptoms of allergies, but these also are symptoms of a cold.
- What color is your nasal discharge? Yellow, green or thick nasal discharge is a sign of infection. A clear runny nose is a symptom of allergy, unless you have a secondary sinus infection.
- Do you have a cough or sore throat? If so, that signals a cold. However, if you have post-nasal drip an allergy may cause these same symptoms.
- Do your eyes burn or feel itchy? This classic allergy response is caused by histamines.
- How long has your condition lasted? Colds usually last between three and 14 days. If your “cold” lasts for weeks or started when the trees started to bud, your body may be overreacting to an allergic trigger rather than fending off a cold virus.
- Do you have a fever and chills? If so, you’re probably suffering from a cold or the flu rather than an allergy.
- Are you experiencing muscle aches? If so, a virus is often the culprit.
- Do you find yourself practicing the allergic salute? People who suffer from chronic allergies habitually wipe their itchy noses upward with their palms or the backs of their hands. The frequency of the nasal swipe often causes a crease in the bridge of the nose.
If your symptoms are pointing to an allergy, you should make an appointment with an allergy specialist prior to taking any medication. If your allergy symptoms are contributing to an asthmatic condition, taking an over-the-counter allergy medication could cause a severe reaction.
Minimize your exposure to allergens. If you suspect you suffer from seasonal allergies, here are eight ways you can minimize your exposure to air-borne allergens.
- Close your doors and windows to keep pollen outside your home.
- Take off your shoes when you enter the house to keep pollen in one location. Vacuum this area often.
- Don’t hang your clothes outside. If you miss the smell of fresh air and sunshine on your clothes and towels, buy fresh-scented dryer sheets.
- Stay inside during the morning hours when most plants release pollen.
- Check out the daily pollen counts in your area. Many television stations or online sites can provide this information.
- Take a shower in the evening to remove the pollen that may have collected in your hair during the day. This will prevent you from sleeping on a pillow full of pollen.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Glasses can minimize the amount of pollen that comes in direct contact with your eyes.
- Consult your primary care clinician. They can help make an appointment with an allergist. The best way to minimize your exposure to allergy toxins is to know which trees and plants cause your allergic response. An allergist will work with you to determine the cause of your allergies.
In many cases, people have been able to minimize allergy symptoms through allergen immunotherapy.
Elson Lim, MD, is a Family Medicine Specialist with Ascension Medical Group at Westwood in Wausau. For more information, visit ministryhealth.org or call 715.355.9775.