"T'is the season...for sneezing, sniffling and watery eyes.
"The winter that wasn't" and the early arrival of unseasonably high temperatures promoting the rapid growth of vegetation have thrown allergy sufferers into a sneezing and coughing frenzy.
"Allergy season has certainly started earlier this year than normal," said John Bruner, owner of Bruner's Pharmacy in Monett. "We have been seeing a big jump in the number of people needing relief from allergy symptoms."
The immune system typically helps to protect a person against harmful substances, which include allergens. Those with allergies tend to have an oversensitive immune response to irritants. That's when the body releases histamines, which triggers the body's defensive response. Symptoms can include breathing difficulties, watery eyes, coughing, itchy throat, runny nose and an overabundance of mucus production.
"Most allergy symptoms can be effectively treated with over-the-counter medications," Bruner said. "Antihistamines, are generally the first line of treatment and there are more options over the counter now than ever before.
"The most recent, Allegra and Zyrtec, have little risk of sedation and are very affordable," Bruner said. "There are also options to more specifically treat symptoms, such as eye drops for itchy eyes or nasal sprays for congestion. In many cases, using a saline spray or sinus flush to irrigate nasal passages can bring relief."
Right now, the prominent cause of high pollen counts are juniper, elm and maple trees blooming out earlier than usual. But just because it's an early spring doesn't mean that the pollen counts will get any better in the coming weeks.
Plants will continue to bloom and release pollens into the air throughout the spring, summer and fall, until the first hard frost. A significant number of plants are pollinated by the wind, so those microscopic bit of powder will get into the nasal passages and lungs.
Trees pollinate first, usually in late March through May. Grasses pollinate next, beginning in May and continuing through mid-July. Weeds begin to pollinate in the late summer and continue through fall.
As a precaution, gardeners and those who work outdoors should take allergy medications well before starting yard work and try to avoid early morning work when pollen counts are the highest. The best time to be outdoors is in the afternoon or after a heavy rain.
Compost and mulches tend to harbor mold spores. Replacing these with synthetic mulch or colored gravel might be an alternative.
While there is nothing quite like the smell of line-dried laundry, avoid hanging sheets and clothing out during periods of high pollen counts.
Spring cleaning may not be at the top of everyone's to-do list, but a monthly cleaning of the furnace filter can reduce the amount of dust and pollens that are blown through the ductwork. A regular cleaning of these filters will also help the air or heating unit function more efficiently.
HEPA filters are available for everything from furnaces to vacuum cleaners and air purifiers. These mesh fiber filters can trap everything from dust, pet dander, pollution and, depending on the type of HEPA filter, microscopic pollen particles.
"In most cases, allergy symptoms can be adequately treated with over-the-counter medications," Bruner said. "A pharmacist can help you make sense of all of the options.
"For more severe cases, a trip to the doctor can be helpful as there are prescription options that can be utilized when needed," Bruner said. "With all of the treatment options, allergy season doesn't have to be miserable."
Some tips for reducing exposure to pollen include:
* Keeping windows and doors closed as much as possible.
* Avoid using window or attic fans during allergy season.
* Don't use a rag to dust. This will just push the pollens around. Use a product that will actually remove the dust from furnishings, ceiling fans nd window sills. Vacuum soft furnishings and spray with an allergen-reducing fabric freshener.
* Keep car windows rolled up during driving; use air conditioning.
* Consider vacationing at a location where pollen counts are relatively low, such as the beach or areas over 5,000 feet in elevation.
* Keep pets that spend time outdoors away from your bedroom. They can bring pollen in on their fur.
* Don't rake leaves during pollen season.
*If possible, hire someone to mow the grass.
* Keep the house clean. Minimize the dust in your indoor environment.
* After being outdoors during high-pollen periods, remove and wash clothing and take a shower. Keep separate clothing for outdoor and indoor use.
To keep an eye on pollen and mold spore counts, visit www.pollen.com/allergy-forecast.