People all around the Capital Region are coughing, sneezing and rubbing their itchy eyes as allergy season causes havoc on their immune systems.
Local allergists agree: This allergy season is worse than last year and is far from over.
“Certainly a lot worse than last year — that’s for sure,” said Dr. David Schulan of Certified Allergy & Asthma, a private physicians’ practice with offices in the Capital Region.
Part of the reason this season has been so bad is warm weather, explains Dr. Muhammad Pasha from the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Group of Albany Medical Center. Allergy season began this year with much warmer weather and wind, key factors in the high pollen count.
In his experience, Pasha said, warmer weather has been drawing larger groups of people into the office complaining of allergy symptoms, “which we haven’t seen for the last couple of years,” he said.
The average allergy season runs from mid-March to early September and has three main cycles: tree, grass and ragweed pollen. Upstate New York has plenty of trees and weeds, resulting in more outdoor allergens, Pasha explained.
Schulan agreed that dry weather with a bit of wind seems to be particularly tough for people with allergies this year.
On its website, Accuweather.com explains in simple terms how pollen allergies work. Pollen grains will be released from trees, weeds and grasses. These grains then will hitch rides on currents of air with the aim of fertilizing other plants. Unfortunately, sometimes these particles will enter human noses.
This causes a reaction in the immune system, resulting in allergies, according to Pasha.
Over the past few days, grass pollen has been the main culprit, according to Schulan. The grass pollen season begins in mid-May and usually runs through July. Tree pollen, a cause of allergies just a few weeks ago, kicked off the allergy season in March and is finishing now.
“Still some tree pollen around,” Schulan said. “The grass pollen would be very high this time of year. It usually peaks in June, early July.”
Ken Clark from Accuweather said grass pollen seems to be the most prevalent allergy trigger right now, but tree pollen is still lingering.
“Right now, tree pollen is on the moderate to high side,” he said. “Grass pollen is usually pretty high this time of year as well.”
Itchy eyes is the most common symptom for people with tree pollen allergies, and Schulan said he saw a lot of that in his office a few weeks ago. Now, with grass pollen season in full swing, more patients are complaining of nasal congestion, a symptom also seen with ragweed allergies.
The last cycle of the allergy season is ragweed pollen. It begins at the end of June and will run until fall, according to Schulan.
Dr. Thomas Flaim from Certified Allergy & Asthma said he also has noticed a significant increase in allergies since last year.
“The trend has been the numbers have been getting higher. That is a national trend as well,” Flaim said.
Pollen is not the only allergy trigger although it is the most common, according to Accuweather.com.
Mold is also one. As the weather gets warmer, mold becomes more of an issue.
“Typically this time of year we are not into the mold season just yet,” Clark said.
Mold spores cause allergic reactions and are usually worse in the fall. These allergens can be found both indoors and outdoors, according to Pasha.
“The mold likes more damp and a wet environment,” he said.
Mold allergies will cause nasal symptoms and in some cases severe asthma, according to Pasha.
Clark added that 99 percent of the country is currently at a high or extreme risk for dust and dander, another cause for allergies.
According to Accuweather.com, both grass and tree pollen levels were moderate on Friday. Weed and mold pollen levels were low. On the other hand, indoor dust and dander levels were at a very high level.
Seasonal allergies are a very common chronic disorder, Pasha said. While they are just a nuisance for many people, for others they can be debilitating.
The easiest way to treat allergies is with over-the-counter antihistamines.
“The advantage of medicine is that they are convenient and generally effective,” Flaim said.
Steroid nasal sprays are effective if the antihistamines are not working, he said. Another option for patients is allergy shots. Medication takes care of the allergies in the short term, while shots can help with a more long-term problem and are highly effective, according to Flaim. The benefits can last for many years because they help correct the immune system problem.
People will sometimes mistake allergies for a common cold. There are a few ways to tell the difference, Flaim said.
“One way would be to look at the story over time,” he said. “A lot of folks come in and say ‘I get a lot of colds.’ Really it is just allergy symptoms.”
The most common symptoms for allergies are itchy eyes, an itchy roof of the mouth and itchy ears, according to Flaim. One easy way to tell if a patient has an illness and not allergies is if they have a fever. A fever is a symptom of infection, not allergies, he said.
“Pollen, mold, animal dander and dust mites typically cause sneezing, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, itchy, watery and/or red eyes, itchy ears, scratchy throat,” the Certified Allergy & Asthma website explains. “Sinus headaches, facial pain and cough can also occur.”
But sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between allergies and a cold, according to Flaim. A lot of the symptoms are the same. Feeling run down and fatigued are symptoms of both, along with headaches and a cough.
One thing is clear though: The sneezing and itching are here to stay for a few more months at least. High indoor dust and dander levels are expected today, and once again, moderate grass and tree pollen levels are predicted, according to Accuweather.com.
“I don’t see any changes in the pollen counts for the weekend,” Clark said. “You don’t see wide swings in your pollen count like you do in the weather.”