May 5, 2006 -- Experts are calling this one of the worst allergy seasons on record, with people who never have had problems before reporting itching, coughing and sneezing.
"This year seems worse than usual," said Bernard Feigenbaum, an allergist at NYU Medical Center. "These new patients that said they never had allergies before are coming out of the woodwork."
More than 20 percent of Americans suffer from allergies, and 14 million will visit a doctor's office this year and rack up $6 billion in treatment costs. Combined, an estimated 4 million sick days will be taken because of allergies.
"I've been prescribing more medications this season than ever before," said Cliff Bassett, an allergist with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "It's the worse allergy season I've seen in a decade. We haven't experienced such high allergy counts this time of year. They're 20 [percent] to 25 percent higher than they usually are."
Hartford, Conn., ranks No. 1 for high pollen count this year, followed by Greenville, S.C.; Boston; Detroit; and Orlando, Fla.
To best cope with allergies, Bassett debunked allergy myths and explained ways that effectively treat symptoms.
Allergy Myth: Cold Medications Help
Cold medications are for a cold. If you have an allergy, you need to take an allergy medication such as an antihistamine or nasal spray. You can't take regular eye drops and expect them to help with the itchy eyes caused by your allergies. They won't.
Allergy Myth: Air Purifiers Help
They are great to clean the air, even removing airborne fur if you are allergic to your pet. But they're just not great at removing pollen from the home.
Allergy Myth: No Allergies in the Desert
This used to be true, but for years people have been moving to the desert climates, along with their plants. As a result, the growing season of these plants is year round. So, places like Arizona and New Mexico now have as much pollen as the rest of the country. If you're thinking about going to the desert to get some relief from your allergies, you'll just be wasting your money.
Allergy Fact: Nondrowsy, Over-the-Counter Medications Work
Claritin and Alavert are brands of antihistamines that are nondrowsy and great at relieving allergy symptoms like itchiness and sneezing. Many other brands will make you drowsy so stay away from them. Be a label detective.
Over-the-counter nasal sprays are fine for a couple of days, but you may get a rebound that makes the symptoms worse. Don't use over-the-counter nasal sprays for more than three days.
Over-the-counter decongestants are good short-term cures, but Bassett doesn't recommend them because they frequently come with side effects such as palpitations, nervousness and dehydration. You shouldn't take them if you have high blood pressure problems.
Allergy Fact: Beware Certain Foods
About one-third of people with seasonal allergies will aggravate their symptoms if they eat certain foods during the allergy season. These people breathe in the pollen, and then the pollen triggers a cross-reaction with the protein in these foods. Avoid apples, pears, carrots, almonds and hazelnut coffee.
Allergy Fact: Shower, Shampoo Before Bed
By showering at night you clean off the pollen that's collected on your body during the day and you won't get pollen all over your pillowcase. Use a baby shampoo to clean off your eyelids.
Allergy Fact: Wear Sunglasses
Sunglasses block the entry of pollen into your eyes. This is especially important on windy days.
Allergy Fact: Exercise Early Evening
Allergy counts are highest in the morning. If you're exercising outdoors, it's best to do it in the early evening.
For more information visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.