Newswise — ST. LOUIS – Punxsatawney Phil may have predicted six extra weeks of winter, but it’s clear that Mother Nature has a mind of her own when it comes to the start of spring. While parts of the East Coast were hit with nearly 12 inches of snow, parts of the Midwest were enjoying highs into the 60s and in the same week.
Sharp temperature fluctuations aren’t just creating major wardrobe challenges around the country. For people coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose, the weather is also making it harder to diagnose the cause of their symptoms.
According to Raymond Slavin, M.D., professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University and SLUCare allergist, signs of an early allergy season started to bloom in the beginning of February as significant counts of tree pollen were being detected. However, a sudden burst of winter weather can drastically reduce pollen counts, making it difficult to predict the start of allergy season while also extending cold season.
“Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms which can make diagnosing the problem more difficult,” Slavin said. “However, there are a few distinctions that can help you differentiate between the two.”
• Duration: Cold symptoms usually last for only a few days. Allergy symptoms can last weeks or even months when left untreated.
• Timing: Seasonal allergies occur the same time every year. A cold is more sporadic, and is most often contracted during the winter.
• Itching: The presence of itching either in the eyes or nose is a common symptom of an allergy, but rarely occurs with a cold.
• Family history: Allergies to a particular irritant can be passed down genetically. If you have a family history of allergies, your symptoms are more likely to be caused by allergies than a cold.
The prevalence of allergies is nothing to sneeze at. Roughly 40 million Americans suffer from allergies of some kind, and those numbers may be growing.
“Over the last ten years, allergy diseases have increased markedly,” Slavin said. “While there have been no definitive explanations for the increase, global warming is believed to be extending the pollen season which may be impacting allergy sufferers.”
When left untreated, allergy sufferers can develop allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, leaving the individual more susceptible to sinus infections, ear infections and a predisposition to asthma. Allergies can also cause fatigue and trouble sleeping which can impede an individual’s work performance and quality of life.
Though allergies are a common condition, the symptoms can be controlled. Slavin offers the following tips for allergy sufferers:
1. Purchase an over-the-counter non-sedative antihistamine such as Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec.
2. Resist the urge to roll the windows down while driving. Keeping windows closed both in your home and in your car will help you avoid allergens.
3. If the first two steps don’t work, seek a physician for a cortisone nasal spray. The medication is a very effective treatment but requires a prescription.
For a video with more allergy information with Slavin, click here.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.