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Spring allergies worsening, lasting longer

April 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Forty million people in the United States suffer from seasonal allergies. And now allergists have a warning: All that sneezing and wheezing is not only becoming worse, it's lasting longer. Here's how to breathe easier this spring.

For allergy sufferer Honor Vincent, spring is hardly a breath of fresh air.

"I can't go to outdoor events because while everyone is enjoying themselves, I'm not," said Vincent. "I usually have my hand over my nose with a tissue."

Over the past couple of years she's been reaching for tissues more often.

"I constantly rinse my eyes out and I felt like a couple of times like I was having an asthma attack. I think that, you know, that my allergies have gotten worse," said Vincent.

She isn't imagining things. Allergists across the country are seeing a worrisome trend: a severe worsening of springtime symptoms like nasal congestion, coughing, and itchy, watery eyes.

"What we're seeing is not only an increase in the severity of typical allergic rhinitis symptoms, but we are also seeing an increase in the co-morbid conditions that can present with seasonal allergies -- conditions such as asthma, eczema, or even hives," said allergist Dr. Cascya Charlot.

Those conditions can send some patients to the emergency room.

And that's not all. Studies suggest that springtime allergies are starting earlier and lasting longer.

"Some patients are unable to function, aren't able to go to school, or to go to work," said Charlot. "Over-the-counter medications seem to not be helpful in some patients."

An allergist can help with a combination of over-the-counter and prescription options.

"Allergy shots are a way to desensitize the body to what the body's allergic to, so we're seeing a lot more patients opting for that," said Charlot.

It also helps to minimize your time outdoors, so experts say track the pollen count daily.

Honor Vincent hopes that allergy shots will give her a "shot" at a safe and happy spring.

"I hope with the allergy shots, eventually I will not have to take any medication, and that my symptoms will cease," said Vincent.

Dr. Charlot says many people don't go to the doctor because they believe just have a cold. Then they mistakenly take the wrong type of medicine.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and allergies? Cold symptoms last a couple of weeks, at most, while allergy symptoms will persist.