Allergy season is expected to be worse than usual

If spring’s blue skies and warmer temperatures make you shudder at the thought of another miserable pollen season, prepare to hunker down.

This is expected to be an unusually bad allergy season. On Sunday, forecasts call for tree pollens to spike, hitting high gear.

Cedar, juniper and alder, “they’re all pretty equal offenders,” said Dr. Nilesh Shah, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle.

Tree pollens will affect people for about another month, Shah said. Then in mid-May, the grasses will kick in.

“This year in particular we’re forecasted to have a bad allergy season,” he said. Predictions call for a warmer than typical summer. “That will be associated with significant allergens.”

Spring allergies can cause a variety of problems: sneezing, runny noses, watery eyes, scratchy throats, headaches, and in some people, fatigue, ear pressure and earaches.

Allergies also can trigger sinus infections because allergies cause swelling in the nose. Sinuses get blocked up and can become infected, said Dr. Edward McCoul, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Providence Medical Group.

People sometimes feel unusually fatigued with allergy problems because stuffy noses can cause breathing problems. “Your sleep quality takes a tremendous hit,” said Dr. Paul McBride, who specializes in treating allergy and asthma problems at The Everett Clinic.

Allergic reactions cause the body to release chemicals similar to a viral infection, he said. Patients often assume they have a cold, but colds don’t last for weeks.

Alder and birch are laden with pollen, enough to dust cars with yellow pollen.

“There’s no tree season in the world like here,” McBride said. “The Northwest is quite unique.”

Pollens typically are worst when it’s hot and sunny. Light rain may not be enough to wash pollens from the air.

“People can be fooled,” Shah said.

Those most sensitive to tree pollens should try to avoid early morning and late evening outdoor activities.

There’s no need to suffer in silence. Over-the-counter medications such as Claritin and Zyrtec are safe and effective, McBride said. Some find relief from sprays such as NasalCrom or eye drops such as Zaditor.

Saline eye drops and saline nasal rises can cut symptoms by as much as half, he said. Just be sure to use distilled or boiled water when using saline nose rinses, McBride said.

For those with more severe symptoms, the next steps would be a trip to the doctor to discuss prescription medication such as steroid nasal sprays and allergy shots.

“It’s important for people to know they have choices,” McBride said. “People don’t have to lie around and be miserable.”

People tend to react far differently when someone says they’re sick than they do when they say they have allergies, even though the symptoms can be very similar, McBride said.

“When they hear the word ill, they think ‘Oh, you’re really sick.’ When they hear allergy … they act like it’s nothing significant.

“You want to shake them and say, ‘You have no idea how miserable I am.’” McCall said.

“I call allergies the Rodney Dangerfield of diseases. You get no respect.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-330-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Test yourself

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has an online test on the severity of allergy or asthma problems at http://tinyurl.com/allergyselftest

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