It’s that season
Spring allergies are a result of pollen from trees, which can start pollinating between January and April. In Kansas, the trees that are known to cause severe allergies include ash, cedar, poplar, sycamore, cottonwood, elm, maple, oak and walnut.
Dr. Warren Frick, a Lawrence allergist, said allergy symptoms include itchy, watery, swollen, red eyes; a runny, stuffy, itchy nose; sneezing; itchy throat; itching deep in the ear; and coughing.
Blame allergies — not a cold — when nasal discharge is clear and the symptoms last longer than a few days or a week. Colds typically involve fevers or chills and allergies do not.
If seasonal allergies seem to have hit you earlier this year, you’re not alone.
Lawrence resident Karen Wray, 44, started suffering from itchy eyes, a runny nose and scratchy throat in early March. Normally, such symptoms don’t appear until early summer or fall.
“I think this spring situation has been the worst that I’ve ever had it,” she said. “I was an absolute mess. I wanted to claw my eyes out of my head.”
She compared her nose to a spigot.
“It’s that runny nose where it just pours out of your head. You can’t even stop it. It’s just like a faucet, but yet you might not be able to breathe. It’s crazy.”
Dr. Warren Frick, of Asthma, Allergy & Rheumatology Associates in Lawrence, said about 25 percent of the population has allergies to something in the air and about 15 percent have hay fever or asthma.
For Kansans, he said the worst time of the year for allergy sufferers is typically late August and September, but this spring has been comparable because of tree pollen.
“It started in late February and it’s been really bad in March and April,” Frick said.
He said there are three ways to help treat an airborne allergy:
• Avoid it. His advice is to stay indoors if you can and keep the doors and windows closed. Pollen counts are highest in the morning. Cold and rainy days are going to be more tolerable than dry, windy days.
Even if it’s not warm enough to run the air conditioner, Frick said to run the central air system fan, so it pulls air through the filter and can help filter out pollen that sneaks in.
“Unfortunately, pollen is one of the hardest things to avoid,” he said. “Animals, molds, dust mites can be avoided to a partial or large extent, but when it comes to pollen, avoidance is very difficult.”
• Use medicine. Frick said eyedrops and nasal sprays work best. It’s best to get a nasal spray that contains a steroid; there are about eight such brands. Prescription eyedrops work better than over-the-counter options because they typically last longer and don’t burn.
“Oral medications are next best, but they are a distant second because you just can’t concentrate the drugs in your eyes and nose where you need to,” he said.
Frick suggested trying an over-the-counter medication. If that doesn’t work, try a prescription drug.
“Sometimes in a patient, one will work better than another, but in large groups of patients the effect is roughly similar,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to try another one if the first one didn’t work.”
• Allergy shots. This is where a doctor injects small doses of substances that you are allergic to under your skin. This helps your body get used to the allergen, which can mean fewer or less severe symptoms.
Frick said there are no serious complications that can result from allergies unless a patient has asthma due to them. If someone is wheezing or short of breath, they should see a doctor. Otherwise, the course of action depends on each person’s tolerance level.
Wray tried the usual over-the-counter medications, but they didn’t seem to make a difference this spring. So, she recently went to the doctor who gave her a cortisone shot and prescription for Singulair. Within three days, she was feeling “more normal.”
For allergy sufferers, spring is tough because they want to open the windows and enjoy the chirping birds, blooming flowers and budding trees. But they pay a high price.
“It’s the most miserable, crazy feeling,” Wray said. “I think when people don’t have them, they can’t appreciate how awful they are.”