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Seasonal Allergies: Your Questions Answered

Most people look forward to the Spring as a time to embrace longer days, and warmer weather. However, if you’re an allergy sufferer it can also be something to dread – especially if you live in North Carolina where five of our cities (including Raleigh and Durham) rank among the Most Challenging Places to Live with Spring Allergies.

Below, we take a look at some common questions and answers related to seasonal allergies.

Frequently Asked Questions About Seasonal Allergies

Why do some people have seasonal allergies while others do not?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), there are more than 50 million Americans living with seasonal nasal allergies.

As to why some people suffer from allergies – genetics play a role. Children whose parents have allergies are more likely to develop allergies. Allergies may also be a combination of environmental exposure (i.e. where we live) plus family history.

What is responsible for the “pollen Armageddon” that North Carolina experiences every Spring?

The yellow pollen that plagues everything is actually pine pollen. Because of the number of different pine trees we have throughout the area, we tend to see a lot of yellow pine pollen. Typically, this cloud of yellow dust arrives towards the end of March/beginning of April and lasts a couple of weeks. Despite it covering everything in sight, pine pollen does not contribute to allergies in the way that many people think.

What are the most common types of seasonal allergies encountered in the Triangle?

The most common types of seasonal allergies that we tend to experience in the Triangle include:

  • Grasses (Bermuda, Bluegrass, Bahia, Johnson)
  • Trees (Oak, Hickory, Cedar, Birch, Elm)
  • Dust mites, pet dander, mold, cockroach, fungus

Is there anything that we can do to prevent allergy symptoms outside of taking medication?

Perhaps the best thing you can do to prevent allergy symptoms it to avoid the allergens that irritate you. Keep windows and doors closed. Wash clothes and bed linens in hot water to kill dust mites, use hypoallergenic bedding etc. Other things you can do include: changing your geographical location, and altering your diet to avoid known food intolerances. While organic honey may offer some dietary benefit, it has no measured impact on preventing and/or treating seasonal allergies.

If someone had a food allergy as a child (ex: Shellfish), is it true that he/she can grow out of an allergy and be fine to consume things they were once allergic to later in life?

Yes, it is possible to “outgrow” a food allergy. Tiny exposures to a food over time may result in a tolerance to that food.

How can someone tell the difference between allergy symptoms vs. cold symptoms?

Allergic Symptoms Include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Clear thin nasal drainage
  • Sneezing, watery/itchy eyes
  • “Itchy” throat
  • Post-nasal drainage
  • Dry cough,
  • *NEVER a fever

Viral or Bacterial Symptoms Include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Thick nasal drainage  (may start clear but usually becomes discolored)
  • General fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Sinus pressure
  • Cough
  • Ear pressure/fullness
  • Sometimes a fever

What sorts of factors affect allergies?

The main factor affecting allergies is allergen exposure. Therefore, geography and time of year matter most. Stress or lack of sleep affect can also affect all aspects of one’s health making ordinary or mild conditions much worse – including allergies.

What are signs/symptoms of a severe allergic reaction? When should you see a doctor, and what kind of doctor should you see?

Seasonal allergies are considered “severe” when the symptoms impair professional or social function despite medical treatment and allergen avoidance. Persons who fail maximal medical therapy under the guidance of their primary care physician (ex: nasal steroid spray, nasal antihistamine spray, oral antihistamine, nasal saline irrigation) or patients who develop recurrent sinus infections should see an ENT specialist.  Allergy testing and/or immunotherapy (allergy shots) may also be considered.

A severe allergic reaction (ex: to a food) usually manifests via:

  • A skin reaction (ex: hives)
  • Lump sensation in throat
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Wheezing, dizziness and potentially life threatening airway obstruction. *This is anaphylaxis. Go to the Emergency Room!

About Allen Marshall, MD

Dr. Allen Marshall is a board certified Otolaryngologist with WakeMed Physician Practices. Dr. Marshall specializes in  ear, nose and throat conditions and has clinical interests in pediatric and adult ENT problems, including sinus disorders and sinus surgery, thyroid and parathyroid surgery, parotid gland surgery, hearing loss and common ear disease.