9 Seasonal Allergy Signs You May Be Overlooking
Published May 5, 2015
By Robert Pedowitz, D.O.
An unusually warm fall, followed by winter’s relentless snowfalls and bitter cold temperatures that plagued many parts of the United States, have made for a pollen-packed spring.
If you’re one of the estimated 50 million Americans who have seasonal allergies, you can probably attest to a higher level of suffering this season compared to other years.The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) says we may be in the midst of one of the worst seasons ever for tree pollen.
Trees and flowers all seem to be blooming at once, and that means a sudden burst of different types of pollen at the same time. In my native New Jersey, we typically experience high tree pollen levels between March and May — particularly from birch, maple, box elder, oak, juniper, cedar, and pine trees. But this year’s colder spring temperatures mean the season may extend into the summer.
As a family doctor, I see several patients a day dealing with all kinds of allergies, not just related to pollen count. Food, pets, dust, medication, chemical, and mold allergens can make people equally miserable. If left untreated, allergens can wreak havoc on a person and affect your quality of life.
Surprising Allergy Symptoms
While many people living with allergies experience classic symptoms — sneezing, watery eyes and nose, itchy throat — there are many other less common symptoms that most people aren’t aware of. The overloading of mucus that comes with untreated allergies may invite lingering bacteria to flourish in the sinuses and make you feel miserable.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, they could be allergy related:
- Chronic fatigue
- Upper respiratory infection
- Sinus infection (sinusitis)
- Sleeping problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of exercise endurance
In fact, even healthcare professionals can fail to recognize these lesser known allergy symptoms. Resulting misdiagnoses can delay treatment and further weaken an already overloaded immune system.
4 Risks of Untreated Allergies
Your antibodies are fully aware that one or more allergens have invaded your body and are working overtime to keep them from slowing you down and making you sicker. But if the allergy isn’t treated, your immune system eventually wears down and the allergy has more power to ramp up symptoms to an even higher level.
When this happens, it can affect your daily life and ability to function. Here’s how:
- Chronic sleep issues. Dealing with issues such as chronic stuffy nasal congestion can lead to poor quality sleep, insomnia, or, in the worst-case scenario, sleep apnea, a chronic disease in which oxygen levels decrease during sleep to the point where your heart and your brain don’t get enough air to function properly.
- Infections and inflammation. Uncontrolled symptoms can eventually wear down the immune system and lead to more serious inflammatory problems such as eczema, sinusitis, asthma, ear infections, chronic migraines, and headaches.
- Decreased brain function. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re debilitated by allergy symptoms that inhibit cognitive skills. Chronic fatigue, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating and staying productive can affect work and school performance, and may even be dangerous for people driving or working in hazardous occupations.
- Mood disorders. Ongoing symptoms resulting in a lack of sleep or causing a person to not feel well may also trigger irritability and mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression — all of which can negatively affect your day-to-day functioning, your social life, your relationships, and your overall health.
How to Protect Yourself From Seasonal Allergy Misery
Before you attempt to self-diagnose and self-medicate with over-the-counter medication, see your family doctor to confirm an allergy diagnosis (which can usually be determined with a simple skin or blood test). If your tests come back positive, discuss the best medication regimen for you based on your allergens.
For many with seasonal allergies, avoidance of allergen triggers is the best defense. You can protect yourself from the ravages of pollen by:
- Replacing furnace filters in your home
- Washing your hair every day
- Avoiding going outside between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are highest.
And next year, plan ahead. Begin taking your medication at the onset of the allergy season so you already have all “shields up” when the pollen lands on you. If you have severe allergies, visit Pollen.com, enter your zip code, and get a reading of the day’s pollen levels before you leave the house.
Unquestionably, it’s been a long, hard winter for many of us, and it’s time to finally venture outside again. But you can’t enjoy spring and summer if you feel lousy. If you need help figuring out if allergies are ruining your day, talk to your doctor to discuss the best treatment options (such as oral medications like antihistamines), nasal sprays, eye drops, or allergy shots. Nip those allergies in the bud, so you can fully participate in the beauty of the season.
Robert Pedowitz, DO, serves as medical director of the Family Practice of CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey. He is board certified in family medicine.