Itchy, watery eyes, sinus headaches, sore throat, runny nose — these are some of the symptoms experienced by the 40 million Americans who suffer from nasal allergies, and the misery that comes along with them.
Springtime is a natural trigger, since it is when trees pollinate, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The symptoms can, in severe cases, lead to difficulty breathing and are especially hard on asthma sufferers.
“Unfortunately, the number of children and adults who have nasal allergies continues to grow every year,” Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs for the AAFA, said in a prepared statement. “And the symptom that patients say is most bothersome is the nasal and sinus congestion that these allergies cause.”
Allergies are triggered by an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign protein substance, or allergen, that is eaten, inhaled, injected or touched. They are the fifth leading chronic disease nationwide among all ages, and the third most common among children under 18 years old, according to the AAFA. The most common indoor and outdoor allergy triggers are: tree, grass and weed pollen; mold spores; dust mite and cockroach allergens; and cat, dog and rodent dander.
Dr. Brian Novick, an allergist with offices in Forest Hills and East Meadow, LI, said the condition is one of the top reasons why people have taken days off from school and work this year.
He added that the last three years have been the worst seasons he has seen in 20 years, judging by the number of patients who have visited for the treatment of springtime hay fever. And just avoiding plants and flowers will not keep the allergens away.
“Most flowers pollinate from bees, not in the air,” Novick said. “Trees and grass pollinate in the air and that pollen can travel hundreds of miles. In February and March, we saw pollen coming all the way from Georgia and further down south.”
Dr. Brian Safier, an allergist with offices in Bayside and Lake Success, LI, noted that allergy attacks can make sufferers more prone to infections, because the inflammation and congestion in the nose makes it harder to clear out bacteria.
“Regardless of how high the pollen count goes, there are people who are experiencing worse symptoms than they did last year,” Safier said, adding that the reason for that is unclear, but that suffering could increase as someone lives through more allergy seasons.
The city where one resides can also affect the severity of allergies. New York is in 39th place nationwide this year on the 2012 Spring Allergy Capitals report, dropping from the 23rd spot last year. The data, compiled by the AAFA, is based on an analysis of pollen counts, the amount of allergy medications used and the number of board certified allergists per patient.
The top five spring allergy capitals are Knoxville, Tenn., McAllen, Texas, Louisville, Ky., Jackson, Miss. and Wichita, Kan. “We don’t advise that people move, because there is no place you can go that will allow you to escape allergies,” Angel Wadron, a spokeswoman for the AAFA said Thursday.
But no matter what your location, there are several steps one can take to minimize the effects of allergies — taking over-the-counter medications, preventing pollen from getting into the home by closing windows and doors and setting the air conditioner on recirculate; vacuuming once or twice a week to keep indoor allergens to a minimum; and planning outdoor activities after lunch or in the evening to avoid the extreme pollen of the morning.
“I recommend a daily sinus wash to my patients because it provides a natural, easy and effective option to prevent and soothe nasal irritation,” Dr. Rohit Katial, Program Director of Allergy and Immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver, said in a prepared statement.