Spring officially arrived just a few days ago. The daffodil stems are emerging from the ground and the forsythia will be blossoming soon.
Allergy sufferers know all too well what comes next. GOOD Morning Wilton is not your medical authority, but we’ve consulted some great local experts in the hopes of giving you the upper hand over allergies this spring.
Allergy Season Isn’t Coming, It’s Already Here
Shah has been a Wilton resident for 12 years. She says pollen counts do vary from year to year, but in general, the allergy calendar is fairly predictable.
“March through May we deal with tree pollen, then April though June, into July we deal with grass,” she said. “Symptoms do come on middle-to-late March.”
She says the key in most cases is to get a head start on treatment. “People think they can start [treatment] when they start feeling miserable. You have to start allergy meds before the pollen starts escalating, the first week of March. You want to get ahead of your symptoms. Otherwise, you’re just chasing your symptoms.”
That, she says, is because symptoms change during the season. Early in the season is marked by sneezing and itchy eyes, ears, nose and throat, “but then you start developing post-nasal drip, throat clearing, sinus pressure, headaches… those are the symptoms that are an extension of the early-onset allergy symptoms and can get worse as the season progresses… there are chronic inflammation changes from what was instigated back in March,” Shah said.
For allergy sufferers who haven’t seen an allergy specialist, over-the-counter medicines can often do the trick. An antihistamine combined with a nasal steroidal spray can be particularly effective for many people, Shah says. But she emphasizes they work differently. Many people will try one or the other, not realizing they can use both.
Dr. Dov Bloch is an otolaryngologist (ENT) and surgeon, also with Advance Specialty Care, who sees many Wilton patients. He agrees that antihistamines along with nasal steroid sprays are often effective, but he also points out, “The nasal sprays can take a while, sometimes a few weeks” before patients see the full benefit, so he urges them to not give up too soon.
Avoidance Is Key
“Avoidance measures play a huge role,” Shah said.
Avoiding allergens is easier if you know exactly what to avoid. An allergist can test you to pinpoint the specific allergens that trigger you, and that can help you zero in on the right treatment, which could be as simple as an over-the-counter medicine or prescription.
Shah says simple things like washing hair after being outside and before bed, or splashing water on a child’s face after recess can make a big difference.
Avoiding being outside on high pollen days (or hours) is important too. Weather channels or apps often have an allergy “forecast” that can be very helpful.
Indoor air is a consideration as well. Keeping windows closed and using air conditioning is often better. HEPA filters can remove allergens from the indoor air.
Shah’s extra tip: keep allergy eye drops in the refrigerator. Cooling them helps avoid the burn that some patients feel when first applied.
Allergy Season During The Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic will impact this spring allergy season in some ways.
Dr. Shah points out that people are spending more time outside, and as a result may be more affected by allergy symptoms than in the past.
But the pandemic may offer one silver lining for allergy sufferers: wearing a mask can help reduce your exposure to airborne allergens.
Bloch noted that anxiety levels about COVID-19 are high, and people may be more acutely aware of their symptoms.
Experts warn that seasonal allergy symptoms could be mistaken for some of the common symptoms of COVID-19, which include coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath, among others. People experiencing those symptoms should check with their doctor and take precautions until COVID-19 can be ruled out.
Where (And Why) To Turn For Help
For some people, symptoms can be unmanageable and really affect quality of life.
“You don’t have to suffer,” says Shah. She urges anyone to see an allergist when their symptoms are bothersome. Allergy shots (which can require years of commitment) are sometimes recommended for long-term relief. The shots are an immunotherapy that use an immune response to de-sensitize the patient and increase tolerance to an allergen.
Shah especially worries about children and even teens who begin to accept their seasonal allergies as something they just have to live with, and who might even stop reporting their symptoms to their parents.
“It’s not just the sniffles,” Shah explained, “It really affects their quality of life, even for example, in terms of social anxiety for kids. It can be isolating for kids who can’t go out for recess, who can’t enjoy baseball, tennis, soccer… When you’re so miserable, how can you even have fun with your peers and play to your fullest?”
She continued, “Many studies have proven that suffering from seasonal allergies affects mood, their attention span in school, and their anxiety levels.”
Bloch says an ENT can play an important role when the patient’s condition is more chronic. “There is an overlap between allergic rhinitis and chronic sinusitis,” he said, adding that “treating one and not the other might have sub-optimal results.” Bloch will often collaborate with an allergist in cases of chronic sinusitis that are exacerbated by allergies.
A naturopathic doctor (ND) can offer another perspective.
Wilton resident Dr. Veena Verma-Dzik is a naturopathic physician and medical acupuncturist with Fairfield Naturopathic Health in Ridgefield. She says many people come to her after a long history of using conventional treatments.
“Antihistamines work really well, but it’s never really treating the cause of what’s going on,” she says. “Allergies are an inflammatory response. I always want to know why.”
She continued, “I believe in conventional medicine. If you need something to bring you relief, then [conventional medicine] is good, but ultimately you want to address the cause and work on that, so you’re preventing [symptoms] down the road.”
Verma-Dzik says genetic factors or nutrient deficiencies can be a factor, and furthermore, that the link between “gut health” and the immune system is often overlooked when it comes to allergy treatment.