The pollens and mold spores have arrived, but we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to survive Chattanooga’s spring allergy season.
By Camille Platt
The trees are budding. Green shoots are priming the daffodils and tulips to bloom. And you have congestion and a nagging headache. Voted among the top 15 most challenging places to live with spring allergies six years in a row, Chattanooga’s allergy season is beyond intense. Do you know why? A few reasons include:
Pollen travels best where there is humidity, warmth, and wind. In winter, we have warm snaps that blur the seasons and trigger trees to release their pollen. Warm snaps also preserve weeds that tend to die off in a hard freeze.
Our natural landscape.
Here in the Southeast, we are surrounded by abundant vegetation. “Eastern Tennessee has more pollinating plants than any place other in the world, without the exception of eastern China,” says Dr. Russell Walker, an allergist with The Allergy and Asthma Group.
Our valley location – insulated by mountains covered in pollinating trees – traps pollens and pollutants, creating a particle fishbowl in which we work, play, and live. “It makes for a debilitating ‘pollen soup’ when spring comes around,” says Dr. Walker.
With the odds against you, it’s time to tackle your symptoms before they hit, or Chattanooga’s exceptional foliage will set you up for a miserable spring.
The Outlook for This Season
So when can you expect your spring allergies to peak this year? It depends on what ails you. Tree pollens (think hickory, oak, maple, hackberry, and sweet gum) begin in mid-March and peak from then until early April, with symptoms dropping off in May. “Tree pollens are the number one trouble maker during the spring season,” says Dr. Lee Perry, an allergist with Chattanooga Allergy Clinic. “Our area has dozens that can induce allergies.”
Grass pollens pick up where the trees left off, peaking from mid-to-late April through June. And then there’s mold. As temperatures rise, tiny mold spores travel out of soil, rotted wood, wet leaves, and plants. Put it all together and it’s the perfect storm for an allergy onslaught.
According to local allergists, this year’s spring allergy season has the potential to pack a powerful punch. Our winter was mild, and rains have strengthened root systems, prepping trees to release pollen sooner rather than later. So plan to tackle your symptoms now. It could be a rough one.
Don’t Brush It Off
If you consider spring allergies “just an annoyance,” it could be time to reconsider. With the abundance of effective treatment options available, there is no reason to suffer in silence.
“Many allergy sufferers don’t take action because they feel their symptoms are ‘normal’,” says Dr. Susan Raschal, allergist with Covenant Allergy and Asthma Care. “But it’s never normal to suffer from persistent nasal congestion, postnasal drainage, sneezing, watery eyes and itching of eyes, nose, ears, and throat.”
Allergists estimate 75% of local seasonal allergy sufferers go untreated, despite suffering from troublesome symptoms like congestion and itchy eyes, to diarrhea and even depression. If this sounds like you, consider taking action today. The effect on your body is worth resolving for the sake of your overall health, productivity, and happiness. Plus, if left untreated, seasonal allergies can grow worse over time.
Track Pollen Counts
Take a proactive stance against seasonal allergies by knowing when to stay indoors. Checking the pollen count first thing in the morning will give you a chance to take a rain check on a long jog with a friend and pop in an aerobics DVD instead. If you need to get out and about, avoid the window between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when pollen counts peak. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology can e-mail you East Tennessee pollen and mold levels every day. For details, visit aaaai.org.
Avoid, Avoid, Avoid
Another first-line defense against spring allergies is avoidance. Find out what you are allergic to, then stay away from it. If you have a problem with pollen, don’t roll the windows down in your car or sleep with the windows open at night. To keep allergens outside the home, take off your shoes and change your clothes when you come inside. Consider showering at night, and bathe your pets more often. Put your clothes in the dryer as opposed to hanging them in the sun. If you need to work outside, stay away from cut grass, and wear a mask to minimize your exposure to airborne particles.
To combat mold, keep your home moisture-free to prevent any new growth. Consider using an air purifier and/or dehumidifier to minimize mold spores and eliminate pollen and pollution.
Be Smart about Meds
Over-the-counter allergy medications like antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays can offer effective symptom relief, but these work best when started before symptoms begin to show.If you’ve needed eye drops, a nasal steroid, or an oral antihistamine like Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra in the past, stock up now. You may need less when pollen counts peak.
However, if you often find yourself stocking up on allergy meds, consider that a clue. It could be time to get to the root of the issue by seeing an allergist. While effective, most OTC allergy medications are designed to manage the symptoms rather than correct the allergic reaction itself.
“To me, it’s unfortunate that when spring hits, most seasonal allergy sufferers just try to manage symptoms on their own with OTC medications,” says Dr. Perry. “If we were to allergy test these patients, we could eliminate their allergies through customized treatment.”
Beat Them for Good
If you want a more permanent, long-lasting solution, allergy shots, also called immunotherapy, may cure your allergies altogether.Tailor-made based on each patient’s allergic reactions, they are effective in 85 to 90 percent of cases.
A visit to an allergist includes a physical examination, a review of your health history, and an allergy test. First, you will be given a scratch test, in which your skin is scratched with small, toothpick-like plastic tips introducing a variety of allergens including pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and foods. If your skin reacts to a certain scratch by developing a small red hive, the allergist will know you have a sensitivity. The scratch test may be followed up with an intradermal introduction of those allergens to help your doctor create a custom treatment to make your symptoms disappear.
Allergy shots work by desensitizing your body to the particles making you ill – it’s like vaccinating your body against the environment. In time, your immune system will adjust and refrain from overreacting when the problem allergens rear their heads.
Besides allowing you to enjoy the outdoors without interference, allergy shots offer several advantages. First, they can keep you from developing asthma later down the road. “To date, allergen immunotherapy is the only strategy shown to prevent asthma from developing,” says Dr. Raschal. “It cuts risk by up to 50%.”
For children with allergies, allergy shots can be a game changer. “In my world, I love seeing a child who is 5 to 10 years old with allergies and no asthma, because if we can administer shots now, we can prevent the development of a lifelong disease,” says Dr. Walker.
Second, allergy shots can also treat everything you are allergic to with just one shot. “In this area, most people are allergic to more than one thing,” says Dr. Walker. “The interesting thing about immunotherapy is that I can treat all those – from tree pollen to dust mites to dog danger – with just one shot.”
Finally, allergy shots can also help you save money by correcting your allergies before they get worse. “Many people don’t know insurance covers 80 to 90 percent of allergy shots,” says Dr. Perry. “New coverage changes reflect the shift in medical care from treating the disease when it comes to preventing it before it comes.”