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Health Care

It's that time of year again where buying stock in Kleenex might be beneficial as seasonal allergies are in full swing. Although seasonal allergies are generally what they are called—seasonal—Virginia actually has elevated levels of some allergy triggers, mold in particular, year-round. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), Seasonal allergic rhinitis (commonly called hay fever) affects more than 35 million Americans. Symptoms may include sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose and itchiness in your nose, the roof of your mouth, throat, eyes or ears.

Listed below are several things to be in the know about as allergy season continues.

1. There are two main culprits of seasonal allergies: pollen and mold.

Pollen from colorful flowers, such as roses, does NOT cause allergies. It is the pollen from the flowers of other plants and trees which produce powdery, dry pollen that is easily spread by wind. This type of pollen can trigger allergies.

Pollination periods vary, usually lasting February through October, but can be active year-round in warmer regions.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often caused by tree pollen in the early spring. During the late spring and early summer, grasses often cause symptoms. Late summer and fall hay fever is caused by weeds.

Molds are tiny fungi related to mushrooms, though lacking stems, roots or leaves. Their spores float through the air similar to pollen. Mold can be found anywhere—soil, rotting wood, ground covering— and spores generally increase as the temperatures start to rise in the spring, peaking July-October. However, increased mold spore levels can be prevalent in the South and West Coast year-round.

2. There are several proactive steps you can take to alleviate seasonal allergies.

-Keep your windows closed at night. Use air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air. Purchase a HEPA filter for your air conditioning unit and change the filter regularly.

• Bathe outdoor pets often if they come inside.

• Try to stay indoors when the pollen or mold levels are reported to be high. Wear a pollen mask if long periods of exposure are unavoidable and your symptoms are severe.

• Avoid mowing lawns frequently or raking leaves regularly. These practices stir up pollen and molds. Also avoid hanging sheets or clothes outside to dry.

• Take a vacation during the height of the pollen season to a more pollen-free area, such as the beach. Keep windows closed when traveling by car.

• Fight allergies with locally produced honey. It is thought that the bee pollen found in honey can help ward off seasonal allergies. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons daily prior to allergy season to build up immunity levels to the season's pollen.

3. Thinking of moving to escape your allergies? Think again.

Some people think that moving to another area of the country may help to alleviate their symptoms. However, according to the AAAAI, pollen (especially grasses) and molds are common to most plant zones in the United States, so moving to escape your allergies is not recommended. Also, because your allergy problem begins in your genes, you are likely to find new allergens to react to in new environments.

4. Is it a cold or allergy?

Do you seem to get a cold the same time every year? Perhaps it is allergies and not the common cold. Though many of the symptoms can be similar, this chart from the Mayo Clinic can help decipher the difference between both.

Symptom check: Is it a cold or allergy?

Symptom

Cold

Allergy

Cough

Usually

Sometimes

General aches and pains

Sometimes

Never

Fatigue

Sometimes

Sometimes

Itchy eyes

Rarely

Usually

Sneezing

Usually

Usually

Sore throat

Usually

Sometimes

Runny nose

Usually

Usually

Stuffy nose

Usually

Usually

Fever

Rarely

Never

 

5. You can check out current pollen/mold levels for your area online.

A website titled www.pollen.com has up-to-date information including a four-day forecast for allergy levels in your local area. The information includes the predominant pollen (i.e. ragweed or grasses) affecting your area each day. The Weather Channel also broadcasts allergy forecasts as well as provides information online at www.weather.com

Be on the lookout for our Ask the Expert in May with Allergy Partners of Fredericksburg!

Kerry Pinto is a freelance writer living in Stafford with her husband and two children.

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