SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Spring is so close you can almost smell it – unless of course you suffer from seasonal allergies – in which case, you'll just have to take someone's word for it.
Springtime allergy season typically arrives either early or late April in this part of the country, but the unusually mild winter might mean an early beginning to stuffy noses and itchy eyes. And now is the perfect time to address issues that might not surface until after the vernal equinox.
"Obviously, tree pollens will be early," said Dr. Wang Y. Mak of Edgemont, whose Allergy & Asthma Family Care practice is at 455 Central Park Ave. "That is, unless Mother Nature were to come up with one of those freak March snowstorms."
Allergy sufferers might be miserable in the springtime – or any time, for that matter – but they're far from alone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 26 million Americans endure chronic seasonal allergies.
Allergic reactions are the body's response to an invasion. When your interior sentries detect foreign substances (antigens), the immune system is triggered. Its antibodies attack the allergen, leading to the release of histamines, which trigger allergic symptoms.
Allergens responsible for early spring afflictions begin with tree pollens, which are released when young buds develop into leaves. Pollens typically – and this winter has been far from typical – become a factor around the beginning of April and grass pollens follow around mid-May.
Scarsdale proudly trumpets its inclusion – 28 straight years – on the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree City list, as does Greenburgh, which earned its first designation in April 2011, but, for allergy suffers, that distinction has a downside. According to Mak, "Maples, Oaks, birch, just to name three" are among the biggest problems for the pollen-sensitive set. But, he said, "If you're one of those unlucky individuals who are allergic to pollen, it doesn't really matter. If you are allergic to certain types, you are probably allergic to others."
How does a person discern between an early spring allergic condition and a late winter cold? Colds usually last five to seven days and can be accompanied by fever, body aches and other symptoms. People experiencing persistent cold-like respiratory symptoms – without fever and body aches – might be suffering from allergies.
In addition to congestion and coughing, allergy symptoms can include sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes runny nose and postnasal drip, sinus pain (headaches, congestion) and itchy, stuffy ears. But allergy symptoms can also manifest as eczema, hives and other skin rashes.
Sufferers with intermittent or occasional symptoms should consider seeking relief from over-the-counter medications, Mak said, but cautioned against overuse of nasal sprays. "I'm not a big fan of those," he said, explaining that, with regular use, people often develop a "rebound effect," meaning the benefits wear off sooner and require another dose."
Mak recommends antihistamines and eye drops. If symptoms are more persistent – and if they interfere with regular activities or quality of life – sufferers should see an allergist.