It is no coincidence that May was selected as Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month: March through May is when trees are pollinating in most of the United States, with some varieties in the South and Southwest getting an even earlier start.
Pollen — the microscopic plant particles that cause seasonal allergies in many people — comes from three general types of plants: trees, grasses and weeds. In general, trees pollinate in the late winter and early spring; grasses often overlap with trees at the end of their season and extend late into the summer; and ragweed, the most potent of allergenic weeds, starts pollinating in mid-August and lasts through September.
Each tree pollinates for one to two weeks, and at that time pollen levels can be quite high, resulting in severe nasal symptoms and, in more severe cases, asthma. In especially pollen-heavy years, some people with nasal allergies can even develop asthma. If you are allergic to only a couple of trees (usually not the case for most tree-allergic people), then your symptoms might only last for a couple of weeks. Any patient with seasonal asthma (or even chest symptoms) should be monitored by a physician, and the same applies to patients with more severe springtime nasal symptoms.
The timing of tree pollens varies each year, depending on the pattern of weather in the preceding winter months. A warmer winter will often result in earlier pollination, and a wetter winter may cause trees to pollinate at higher levels.
The management of pollen symptoms is improved if patients begin medications prior to the development of symptoms. You do not need to suffer during allergy seasons — there are plenty of treatment options:
• Over-the-counter antihistamines (the non-sedating variety are preferable) can help control sneezing and itchiness.
• Prescription nasal and lung steroid sprays can help control nasal congestion and asthma symptoms.
• There are newer prescription nasal antihistamine sprays that work on both sneezing and itching and, when used regularly, can help control congestion, too.
• Patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled with medications might benefit from allergy injections. These injections are given weekly, then less frequently once the patient is desensitized. They reduce the body’s reaction to the normally harmless pollen granules, but they take months or longer to start working.
• For eye itching, the oral antihistamines can be of benefit, and there are antihistamine eyedrops available by prescription and over-the-counter, too.