The good news is that winter is officially over. The bad news is that, no matter where you live in the U.S., spring 2014 is expected to be one of the worst seasons for allergy sufferers in almost a decade. So says Warren Filley, M.D., board certified allergist and clinical professor of medicine at Oklahoma University College of Medicine.
Filley told Healthline that with the prolonged below-average temperatures and significant snowfall east of the Rockies, and with a warm winter that was drier than average west of the Rockies, conditions are ripe for a “super bloom.”
"When we get these extremes, we see more issues with allergy symptoms,” he said.
In places where it was very cold, Filley says that "the trees are stacking up." "They haven’t pollinated yet," he explained. "When spring comes there will be a compaction of the season. When it warms to 75 or 80 degrees, the pollen will pour out. The season is truncated, and when it comes, you’ll see more pollen come out from different sources. We see this every eight to ten years. The extended drought and extreme dry conditions in California can also be a problem for allergy sufferers because of blowing dust. There will be trouble all over. It was not a normal year.”
Air pollution, such as a recent dust cloud over Phoenix, can add to allergy sufferers’ woes. “It is an irritant that is polluting the air, and it may result in mold,” said Filley.
According to meteorologists at The Weather Channel, recent research has also shown that ozone can cause chronic inflammation in the airways of asthma sufferers. The effects of pollutants are usually not felt by those affected until one or two days after exposure.
Tips for Allergy Sufferers
So, what can allergy sufferers do to survive this season’s blast?
> Treat Symptoms Early
If you have minimal symptoms and have suffered from allergies in the past, Filley advises that you start using over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines or prescription medication treatment before your allergy symptoms start, or as soon as symptoms begin. He also suggests wearing a mask when you go outside, using a saline nasal rinse, or flushing out debris using a Neti pot.
> Monitor Pollen Counts
Janet P. Engle, PharmD, FAPhA, head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Healthline that people who are allergic to pollen should monitor pollen counts. One helpful site is Pollen.com, which helps to determine what types of pollen allergens are in the air in a certain area. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) also tracks pollen and mold.
When pollen counts are high, Engle suggests that you stay indoors if possible. “Pollen counts are the highest between 5 and 10 a.m. It’s also wise not to line dry clothes or air out rugs outside” said Engle. Clothes and rugs can bring pollen indoors.
> Turn On the AC
Engle also suggests keeping the windows closed in the house, using air-conditioning, and remembering to change the filters frequently.
When you are in your car, Engle suggests keeping the windows closed and set the air conditioner to recirculate air, rather than bring in fresh air from outside.
> Take a Shower
If you spend time outdoors on high-pollen days, you should take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes when you get home to get rid of any pollen that may have built up on you or your hair or clothes. “Have children change their clothes when they come in from playing outside,” said Engle.
> Don’t Forget to Pack Your Meds
Engle recommends that if you have travel plans, be sure to take all of your allergy medications with you and to carry them with you instead of packing them in your checked luggage.
“Ask the front desk at the hotel for a dry room with as much exposure to sunlight as possible and avoid rooms near indoor pools or saunas, especially if you are sensitive to molds. Remove feather pillows, and bring a dust mite pillow case with you. Ask for smoke free rental cars,” said Engle.
New Prescription Medications for Allergy Sufferers
There are several new prescription treatments available for allergy sufferers.
Merck's latest offering is once-daily Nasonex to help treat nasal symptoms of both seasonal (outdoor) and year-round (indoor) allergic rhinitis in adults as well as children two years and older. The company claims that Nasonex helps prevent such symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis in people 12 years and older when started 2 to 4 weeks prior to allergy season.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Oralair to treat allergic rhinitis (hay fever) with or without conjunctivitis (eye inflammation) that is induced by certain grass pollens in people ages 10 through 65 years. Oralair, manufactured by Stallergenes S.A. of Antony, France is the first sublingual (under the tongue) allergen extract approved in the U.S.
Oralair treatment should begin four months before the start of the grass pollen season and continued throughout the season. Oralair contains a mixture of freeze-dried extracts from the pollens of five grasses, including Kentucky Blue Grass, Orchard, Perennial Rye, Sweet Vernal and Timothy. After administration of the first dose at the health care provider’s office, where the patient can be observed for potential adverse reactions, Oralair can be taken at home.
McNeil’s newest product is Zyrtec Dissolve Tabs, available in dosages for children and adults. The antihistamine is intended to dissolve instantly without water. McNeil is also offering Benadryl Allergy Dye-Free Liqui-Gels, an antihistamine with no added colors.
Chattem offers Allegra for 24 Hour Relief and Allegra-D for 24 hour relief of allergy and congestion. For children, there's Children’s Allegra Allergy in liquid and meltable tablet formulations.
Chattem has launched nasal triamcinolone Nasacort Allergy 24HR nasal spray. The product was recently switched from prescription to OTC status. It is the first topical steroid available OTC and is indicated for adults and children over the age of two. It is intended to relieve the symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, nasal itching, and stuffy nose.
Claritin-D is yet another OTC product that treats both allergies and nasal congestion.
Reckitt Benckiser is taking the wraps off Mucinex Allergy 24 Hour Adult Tablets for indoor and outdoor allergy relief.
Under the Zicam brand, Matrixx initiatives offers several nasal spray products - a homeopathic Allergy Relief nasal spray, an oxymetazoline based Extreme Congestion Relief nasal spray, as well as an Intense Sinus Relief nasal spray.
On the Natural Front
Hyland’s offers a line of natural allergy relief products, including Hayfever. For children, there’s Hyland’s 4 Kids Allergy Relief, in dissolving tablets that melt instantly in your mouth. The product is free of pseudoephedrine, sugar and dyes.
Boiron offers a line of homeopathic allergy medicines, including Sabadil and Children’s Sabadil Pellets. Sabadil contains a blend of homeopathic active ingredients to relieve hay fever and other upper respiratory allergy symptoms, including itchy nose, sneezing, runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes. Sabadil does not cause drowsiness or have rebound effects.
Finally, Rootology Health’s Rootology, contains a blend of 13 concentrated herbal extracts that are intended to work individually and in synergy for nasal and sinus support against allergens, environmental irritants, such as pollen, dander, dust, mold, pollution, chemical, and wildfire smoke.
Want to test for allergies in the comfort of your home? My Allergy Test tests for airborne allergens such as Timothy grass, Bermuda grass, mountain cedar, short ragweed, and mold. Users must collect a small blood sample via a finger prick and mail their sample to a lab in a prepaid envelope.
Engle advises always reading medicine labels, to make sure you are not taking multiple products (prescription or OTC) containing the same ingredient.
“Some allergy products and some products for insomnia contain the exact same active ingredient (diphenhydramine). By taking them together, you are double dosing and can have side effects,” said Engle.
Reading labels is also important if you are going to drive, as many medications indicate whether the ingredients cause drowsiness.
Finally, don’t skip doses, and if you have questions about your medications, ask your pharmacist, said Engle.
If OTCs and prescriptions don’t provide relief, a board-certified allergist can evaluate you for allergy immunotherapy, which involves finding out what you are allergic to and receiving injections for a period of three to five years.
“Eighty to 90 percent of the time, people become less allergic,” said Filley.