The spring allergy season is here -- and it's arrived early.
A wet winter and a few early warming spells followed by immediate cold snaps have resulted in short, intense bursts of tree pollen, said Dr. Summit Shah of Premier Allergy, which has several offices in Greater Columbus.
Strong wind gusts then spread around the misery.
The good news, Shah said, is the full force of the season is about four weeks away.
"One of the key things we tell our patients, especially in the spring or fall time, knowing is half the battle," he said.
"If you find out what you're allergic to you can find a safe and effective treatment plan to combat your allergies."
Dr. Charity Fox, assistant professor of internal medicine at Ohio State University Medical Center, said April is a good time to undergo scratch testing, when a series of allergens are placed on a patient's skin, which is then pierced.
If the skin swells at the site of the scratch, the patient is determined to have a hypersensitivity to that allergen.
Establishing whether the patient is truly allergic to pollen, as opposed to merely sensitive to it, will help set a proper drug-therapy regimen, Fox said.
"Pollen can be an irritant so it doesn't mean you have high allergy antibodies," she said. "And with the rapid temperature shifts, that's pretty hard on the nose."
Some over-the-counter medications are effective in treating both sensitivities as well as allergies, Fox said.
But there are a variety of inexpensive prescription medications -- nasal antihistamines and steroids, eye drops and pills -- that carry fewer side effects, she said.
Some allergy medications, particularly nasal steroids, take time to become effective, so it's best to start a drug therapy well before pollen counts reach a durable peak, Fox said.
"The pollen absolutely won't wait," she said, noting tree pollen is followed by grass pollen and mold spores, with ragweed showing up toward the beginning of fall.
Another option is immunotherapy treatment, or shots, which start at a low dose so the patient can build a tolerance and maintenance becomes less frequent.
"They will put you in remission, so to speak," Fox said. "They diminish the number of cells and the reactivity of cells that are driving the allergic response."
Allergies aren't only annoying, they carry risk factor for other diseases, such as chronic sinus infections, recurrent ear infections in children and obstructive sleep apnea, Fox said.
Others who don't want to take medication can go the avoidance route, such as avoiding the outdoors in the morning, when the pollen count is high, and during high-wind episodes, she said.
"You can run the air conditioner in the summer and your HVAC system to help remove pollen with good filters," Fox said, "but there's a limit on how much avoidance you can do.
"That's always the first step, to get some kind of environmental control, but that's usually in and of itself not enough."
For more information about allergies, go to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology at www.aaaai.org.