Hay fever sufferers beware. Allergy season is back and, unlike last year's rather mild season, this year's promises to be nothing to sneeze at.
"I expect the ragweed and pollen to be much worse this fall than last fall," said Dr. Ron Weiner, an allergy and asthma specialist with Asthma, Allergy and Rheumatology Associates in Lawrence.
"We've had a lot of rain this summer," he said. "Last year the drought held back the ragweed growth."
And with all the rain, ragweed has been growing, like, well, a weed, and that means high pollen counts and lots of sneezing for hay fever victims.
"The worst time for allergies is from late August until mid-October," Weiner said. "With September usually especially bad."
BUT POLLEN isn't the only plague expected to rampage this allergy season. Watch out for mold, which has been building since winter. This substance can cause the same allergic reactions as pollen.
"This has been a banner year for mold," Weiner said. "Mold usually stays until there is snow on the ground, but there was no snow last winter, so the mold thrived."
But how can you tell the difference between a late summer cold and the sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes of an allergic reaction?
"The primary symptom with an allergy is itching in the eyes, nose and sometimes throat," said Weiner. "That's how you can tell it's not a cold or pollution or anything but an allergy. In some people, there's an itch in the mouth and the back of the throat."
So what is the easiest way to survive the next eight weeks?
"Shut the windows and turn on the air conditioner," Weiner advises. "Make sure you change the filters on central air conditioning once a month and clean room unit filters every two weeks."
THE WORST thing you could do would be to open the windows and turn on the attic fan, he said.
"You might as well be outside."
Weiner suggests avoiding the outdoors whenever the allergy-causing agent might be prevalent.
"Pollen is worst between dawn and 8 a.m.," he said. "So don't go out in the morning if pollen makes you sneeze. Mold can bother people all day, but sometimes it gets worse in the evenings."
Over-the-counter medications can be effective but might cause drowsiness, Weiner said. "If there is a problem, then see a doctor. We can prescribe a cortisone nose spray or certain eye drops that can help without the drowsiness."
Weiner suggests avoiding over-the-counter nose sprays, saying they can be addictive and harmful.
But rejoice in the knowledge that you are not alone in your suffering. "About 20 percent of the U.S. population has inhalant allergies," Weiner said. "It's one of the most common reasons to visit a doctor."