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Allergies hit Utahns early this year amid heat trend – Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner 3/22/2015

OGDEN – If it feels like your allergies are kicking in sooner than usual this year, you’re probably right.

Doctors have been seeing an increase in the number of patients with itchy, watery eyes and sneezing, during a time of year when they’re used to seeing colds and influenza.

According to Intermountain Allergy and Asthma, right now cottonwood counts are very high, cedar is high and willow is moderate.

“The allergy season started earlier with the warmer weather and we are having higher pollen counts sooner,” said Dr. Douglas Jones, an allergist at Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“Many people are experiencing the typical itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, and even wheezing if they have asthma.”

Dr. Doug Anderson, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and allergist at the Ogden Clinic, said he has also seen an increase in the number of people complaining of allergy symptoms.

“While the nice weather has allowed many in our community to get outside more to enjoy activities such as walking, biking, running, playing golf and or tennis, it has also increased the number of people who are complaining of nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and itchy and swollen eyes,” Anderson said. “Because of our very mild winter and early spring-like conditions, trees have pollinated prematurely and as a result allergy sufferers have begun to experience their symptoms earlier than normal.”

Jones and Anderson said many people confuse cold and allergy symptoms because they are quite similar. Both a cold and allergy can cause sneezing, running nose, congestion and fatigue. However, some of the symptoms are different. In addition to those symptoms, colds can also cause body aches, fevers, coughing, sore throat and runny nose.

“Symptoms that are more unique to allergies include itchy and watery eyes and a runny nose that stays thin and clear,” Anderson said. “Patients who are suffering from allergies don’t get fever or body aches.”

In addition to the early warm weather, Anderson said worsening air quality and pollution and exposure to cigarette smoke may sensitize the immune system and increase the production of IgE, an antibody that is involved in the body’s immune reaction to allergens, which may initiate and worsen allergy symptoms. Also, chemicals in the polluted air may attach to many types of pollen, causing them to become more aggressive.

Both Jones and Anderson said allergy sufferers should get their symptoms under control as soon as possible, preferably with non-sedating antihistamines such as Allegra, Zyrtec or Claritin or a steroidal nasal spray. If those aren’t helping, an allergist can do testing and prescribe something different, such as one of the newer medications that dissolve under the tongue and help decrease and prevent symptoms.

“I recommend patients get tested by a board certified allergist as they can make recommendations for the best treatment plan and see if a patient may be a candidate for immunotherapy and which type of immunotherapy would be most effective for them,” Jones said. “Medications treat allergy symptoms, but immunotherapy actually treats the allergies.”

Anderson said testing for foods can also be done since some foods cross-react with environmental pollens.

“For example, people with an allergy to birch tree may have a reaction to apples, hazelnuts, carrots, raw tomatoes, celery and kiwi,” Anderson said. “So knowledge of a person’s allergies may help him choose more wisely the foods that he eats.”

In addition to seeing an allergist when the pollen counts are high, both physicians suggest sleeping with an air conditioner on versus opening a window during breezy weather conditions.

Since pollens will stick to clothing, skin and hair, frequent showering and changing clothes when you come inside is recommended, especially before going to bed.