NJ.com: Spring allergies in Essex County: Advice on breathing easier

With February's average state temperature of 21.958 degrees making it the third-coldest February in New Jersey on record — according to David Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers University — who in Essex County wouldn't welcome spring's return to warmer days, open windows and visits to the garden? Those who also have to factor in visits to the pharmacy to deal with allergy symptoms.

As the trees begin to bloom and pollen becomes airborne, many New Jerseyans combat stuffy noses and watery eyes. Allergy is characterized by an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign protein substance (allergen) that is eaten, breathed into the lungs, injected or touched, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This immune overreaction can result in symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose and a scratchy throat.

Outdoor allergies (also called seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR), hay fever or nasal allergies) occur when allergens that are commonly found outdoors are inhaled into the nose and the lungs, causing allergic reactions, according to the foundation. Examples of commonly inhaled outdoor allergens are tree, grass and weed pollen and mold spores.

Although spring can bring lots of sneezing and sniffles, it's important to remember that there are tools available, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology:

Head symptoms off at the pass: Taking prescription allergy medications before the worst symptoms hit can greatly alleviate allergy suffering.

Be alert to an early spring: Once allergy sufferers are exposed to early pollen, their immune system is primed to react to allergens. If the weather report calls for a streak of warm days, begin taking your medication.

The tree factor: Tree pollen first appears in February and peaks both in March and April. One's response to pollen can depend on to which pollen he or she is allergic.

Individual symptoms: No two allergy sufferers have the same set of reactions, so allergies must be treated according to one's symptoms. While some people may be able to treat mild allergies with over-the-counter medications, others benefit from seeing a board-certified allergist. 

Spring also ushers in Air Quality Awareness Week, sponsored in part by the Environmental Protection Agency and observed April 27 to May 1. The week highlights the Air Quality Index (AQI), which provides a simple indicator for local air quality, indicating how clean or polluted the air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern. For more information, including where to download the free AirNow apps for iPhone or Android phones, visit epa.gov/airnow/airaware.

The facts about allergies and asthma

As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, the trees, grass and flowers all begin to bloom — ushering in the season for sneezes, watery eyes and runny noses for many spring-time allergy sufferers. Both allergies and asthma are the most common health problems, with more than 60 million people impacted by asthma, seasonal hay fever or other allergy-related conditions each year. While allergies can affect anyone, they are more common in children; however, a first-time occurrence can happen at any age or recur after many years of remission.  

Treatment for allergy and asthma sufferers can greatly manage and improve symptoms. For a referral to a Barnabas Health pediatric or adult allergist or immunologist, call (888) 724-7123.