Allergies increase as spring pollen intensifies in area

Carmen GeorgeApril 24, 2013 

With spring in full swing and pollen increasing, allergies are also on the rise for many.

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, a 2010 study reported that almost 10% of U.S. children, and almost 8% of Americans 18 and older, suffered from hay fever in the past 12 months.

Hay fever, a common allergic inflammation of the nasal airways, is also nothing new for many area residents.

"We here in the greater Oakhurst area live in a foothill mountain community surrounded by forest and wild growth," said Dr. Dan O'Meara with Kaiser Permanente in Oakhurst. "The pollen can be so thick at times that our cars look yellow.

"Allergies are the result of our bodies natural defense system attacking what it sees as foreign, the pollen. We make antibodies to them, and we produce chemicals to try to expel them. The result of these natural self defense chemicals is itchy watery eyes, stuffy runny noses, sneezing, and coughing."

While these symptoms can be uncomfortable, they're natural and nothing that most people need to be concerned about, O'Meara said.

"Allergies are just the natural defenses in hyper drive," he said.

Still, there are a variety of ways to help reduce allergies -- the most basic being limiting exposure to allergens, and knowing your "trigger," as most people have different responses to different kinds of pollen, he said.

O'Meara said prescription drugs are also often overused due to a societal focus on "immediate gratification," and that one natural way to help the body cope with allergies is to drink more water.

"The more water you drink, the more likely you'll have thin mucous that makes it easier to then expel these things out of your system," he said.

If a person decides they want to use a treatment for allergy symptoms, O'Meara said a nasal saline wash to wash off allergens from their nasal mucosa is the least potent, followed by antihistamines and then a nasal spray, which is the most potent.

Allergies are also often mistaken as a case of the common cold, he said.

"Viral infections typically don't involve itchy watery eyes, and they are often associated with fever, whereas allergic reactions are not," O'Meara said. "Viral infections can cause headache, and allergies will typically only cause facial congestion. A cough is also more common in viral than allergic reactions.

"Infectious processes will usually not last more than 10 days. Allergies can last an entire season and frequently come back at the same time every year. Bacterial infections will produce higher degrees of fever, and malaise, muscle pain, and fatigue are common features."

While allergies are common, there are some cases where they can be more serious, primarily, for those who have been diagnosed with asthma, because allergies can trigger an asthma attack, O'Meara said.

O'Meara said that many people who think they are just experiencing severe allergies may actually have asthma.

"There is a lung function test that's done to prove it (asthma)," O'Meara said. "There is a way to measure how fast air flows and what someone's lung capacity is ... the test would only be indicated if someone has a persistent cough and shortness of breath and wheezing."

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