Monday, May 11, 2009


Spring allergy season is in full swing

Spring is here and with it comes a flurry of itchy eyes, runny noses and tons of ads on TV about allergies. You have cold symptoms and you don’t know whether what you have is common cold or spring allergy, commonly known as Hay Fever (allergic rhinitis).

Allergic rhinitis happens when you breathe something you are allergic to, and the inside of your nose becomes inflamed or swollen, causing excess mucus and congestion. Allergic rhinitis affects 40 million people in the United States.

When is it allergies and not a cold?

Signs of allergic rhinitis are similar to signs of a common cold. But, unlike common cold symptoms, allergic rhinitis can last for more than 8-10 days. Common symptoms are:
• A runny nose to start with which usually ends up being stuffy later.
• Sneezing, usually multiple times
• Itchy nose, itchy eyes and/or watery eyes
• Children who have allergic rhinitis might have dark circles under their eyes(from excessive rubbing), or use the palm of their hand to push their nose up as they try to stop the itching (called the “allergic salute”)
• Coughing and/or sore throat cause by mucus running down the back of your throat.

A common cold usually lasts 3-5 days and may be associated with fever, aches and pains. Itchy nose or eyes is not a symptom of common cold at all.

What causes allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is caused by things that trigger allergies, called allergens. These allergens can be found both indoors and outdoors. Common outdoor allergens are mold or trees, grass and weed pollens. Allergic rhinitis caused by these is usually referred as “hay fever”.

Allergic rhinitis may also be caused by allergens that are in your house, such as animal dander, indoor mold, or the droppings of cockroaches or house dust mites.

• If you have symptoms in spring, you are probably allergic to tree pollens.
• If you have symptoms in the summer, you are probably allergic to grass and weed pollens.
• If you have symptoms in late summer and fall, you probably are allergic to ragweed.
• Dust mites, molds and animal dander cause symptoms all year round.

What are the treatment options?

There are a number of over-the-counter medications, called antihistamines, that are available. Most people are aware of Benadryl, which tends to cause drowsiness and is not preferred if you work with machinery or driving. Many of the newer medications do not have this problem, for instance Zyrtec or Claritin (or any equivalent store brand).

Nose sprays and antihistamines that your doctor prescribes are more helpful in controlling symptoms. Nose sprays can act as preventive medications if started early in the season before the symptoms start. There are other medications available to help prevent or minimize symptoms. Talk to your doctor for more details. If you are one of those who suffer throughout the season or all year, a visit to an allergist may be a good idea.

Ravi Prakash, MD, is a pediatrician on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff with a private practice in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Prakash and all of the Healthy Living columnists at, or comment on their blog at

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