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Warm Winter Means Fierce Spring Allergy Season

PELHAM, N.Y. — Spring is so close you can almost smell it — unless of course you suffer from seasonal allergies — in which case, you'll just have to take a fellow Westchester resident’s word for it.

Sharif Shelton suffers from hay fever, which flares up at this time of the year because of the pollen. The Mount Vernon resident does not take any medication for the allergy, but instead just fights through it.

“I don’t take nothing anymore,” Shelton said. “It either makes me drowsy or it just doesn’t do anything.”

Springtime allergy season typically arrives in early or late April in this part of the country, but the unusually mild winter means an early beginning to stuffy noses and itchy eyes. And now is the perfect time to address issues that might not surface until after the vernal equinox.

Allergy sufferers might be miserable in the springtime — or any time, for that matter — but they're far from alone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 26 million Americans endure chronic seasonal allergies.

Not all allergy sufferers are like Shelton. Several have stopped by Klein Pharmacy in Pelham, said James Paul, a worker at the store.

“People are coming in and complaining about stuff that they never had before,” he said. “It’s the allergy season. It’s that way because of the weather.”

Allergic reactions are the body's response to an invasion. When your interior sentries detect foreign substances (antigens), the immune system is triggered. Its antibodies attack the allergen, which leads to the release of histamines, which trigger allergic symptoms.

Allergens responsible for early spring afflictions begin with tree pollens, which are released when young buds develop into leaves. Pollens typically — and this winter has been far from typical — become a factor around the beginning of April, and grass pollens follow around mid-May.

Pelham residents also are going to their doctors to help with their allergies, Paul said.

“It’s basically allergy season, but some people, they get the medicine — they go to a doctor to get it,” he said. “That’s primarily what’s happened. Over-the-counters is the usuals — cough medicines, Dayquil, Nyquil, whatever. We seem to be doing OK with that.

But how does a person discern between an early spring allergic condition and a late-winter cold? Colds usually last five to seven days and can be accompanied by fever, body aches and other symptoms. People experiencing persistent cold-like respiratory symptoms — without fever and body aches — might be suffering from allergies.

In addition to congestion and coughing, allergy symptoms can include sneezing; itchy or watery eyes; runny nose and postnasal drip; sinus pain (headaches, congestion); and itchy, stuffy ears. But allergy symptoms can also manifest as eczema, hives and other skin rashes.

Sufferers with intermittent or occasional symptoms should consider seeking relief from over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, saltwater nasal rinses and eye drops. If symptoms are more persistent — and if they interfere with regular activities or quality of life — a sufferer should see an allergist.

But steering clear of the irritants that affect you is the best line of defense against symptoms. In other words, don't bring the outdoors indoors with you. Wiping your feet before walking into a house so you don't track pollen in with you is a good start. And immediately taking off and washing clothes is also helpful in reducing allergens, as is closing windows when the pollen count is particularly high.

When over-the-counter medication and household mitigation aren't keeping the antigens at bay, among the treatments available to allergy are pre-seasonal allergy drops, a form of immunotherapy in which drops of allergen extracts are placed under the tongue. Like standard allergy shots, such courses of action can treat acute symptoms, as well as prevent recurrences of allergies.

Before your wave your white tissue in surrender to allergies, take action. Then, think spring.

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