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Seasonal Allergies


Andrew Ferguson, M.D.


For most people, spring is the time of year to enjoy the outdoors, a pleasant change from the cold winter months. However, for people who suffer from seasonal allergies, spring can be a time of discomfort. Springtime allergies are caused by an abnormal reaction to airborne pollens and affect more than 5 million people each year.

Most springtime pollens come from grasses and trees. They are swept into the air by wind with the intent to fertilize other trees and grasses. Microscopic pollen is light and is able to travel for miles, especially during a warm, dry day. Because these pollens travel so freely, it is usually not helpful to remove nearby trees in the yard that may be causing problems. The fact that pollen is inescapable during this time of year makes it almost impossible for an allergic person to avoid having symptoms while outside.

Pollen is usually inhaled, where it comes in contact with the nose and throat. This produces an allergic reaction resulting in a variety of symptoms, including watery itchy eyes, nasal congestion, hives, and sneezing. These symptoms range from mild to severe, and can even trigger an asthmatic attack in some people. In addition, these allergic reactions can predispose a person to sinus and ear infections.

Because pollen is difficult to avoid in the outdoors, treatment with medicine is often necessary. To achieve the most satisfying results with attention to safety, therapy should be supervised by your physician. Over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines are commonly used as a first line treatment for seasonal allergies. These medicines are effective for most cases but do have side effects, most notably drowsiness. For safety reasons, it is recommended to consult a physician before using these medications. Other medicines such as nasal steroid sprays are also effective and are available with a prescription.

In more severe cases, allergy testing may be necessary. Allergy testing may uncover the cause for one’s symptoms. For example, a tree allergy is usually species-specific, meaning that a person develops an allergy to one kind of tree and may not be sensitive to another. Testing may identify a specific tree, but in many cases, people test positive to a number of other common allergens, such as mold, dust and cats.

For some people who have been allergy tested, allergy shots or immunotherapy become the preferred treatment. Allergy shots are prescribed and supervised by a physician and usually begin reducing symptoms in approximately nine to 12 months. Newer methods are being developed which will reduce the cost and time of immunotherapy while increasing its effectiveness.

Knowing the pollen count can help people who suffer from seasonal allergies plan for the day. The pollen count is the average number of pollen grains per cubic meter of air during a 24-hour time period. With the use of pollen counts, people can make plans for daily medications and outdoor activities. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has an official website, at, a reliable resource which gives current pollen count information.

Many residents of the upper Eastern Shore suffer from seasonal allergies. Patient awareness along with a treatment plan designed by you and your physician is the best way to minimize the undesirable effects that spring-time pollen brings.

ferguson.jpg (15493 bytes) Andrew Ferguson, M.D., is board-certified in Family Practice and practices in association with Patrick Shanahan, M.D., in Chestertown. He earned his medical degree from the Universtiy of Maryland.