The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 6, 2012

Weed pollens have allergies flaring up

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — If you want to know how bad this allergy season has been, ask your Facebook friends.

At the question, “Anyone else’s allergies on fire?” came a cascade of responses.

“Not fun.” “I can’t hear you over the blowing of my nose.” “It’s terrible!” “Conflagration!” “You should see my poor dog!”

One relatively new allergy sufferer, Sarah Turbes, put it this way: “When my allergies are at their worst, I feel like a complete idiot as I can’t focus,” Turbes said. “My head feels swimmy, my ears and throat itch like crazy, I sneeze a lot, my eyes itch and I stupidly rub them.”

When it’s late summer, it’s definitely sneeze time.

“Overall this tends to be a busier time of year for us,” said Dr. Vasan Ramanuja, an allergist with the Mankato Clinic.

The culprit this time of year is weed pollen and ragweed, or what people have traditionally called hay fever. Ramanuja says that, because weed pollens are prevalent in the Midwest, the most common type of allergy symptom he sees are associated with allergic rhinitis: runny nose, itchy nose, itchy watery eyes, post nasal drip.

What most people probably want to know, though, is how to avoid getting these symptoms in the first place.

Ramanuja says the various over-the-counter drugs available are the first line of defense. Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec (or their generic equivalents, if available) work well. The nasal sprays also can be effective, especially for symptoms centered around the nose, such as runny or itchy nose.

But there are also some things you can do passively to help yourself.

Ramanuja advises keeping car windows closed while driving, and closing the windows of your house or apartment if possible. Washing your hair can rinse away the allergy-triggering particles that can get stuck in your hair. Finally, wash your pillow case regularly; just like your hair, particles can remain on your pillow and cause your allergies to flare up when you go to bed at night.

This season’s weather, some have speculated, may have contributed to the severity of allergy season. But Ramanuja says the year we’re seeing is typical, whether people think it’s worse or not.

Turbes said she’s never been clinically diagnosed. But she’s seen enough people in her family who have been. She’s pretty sure she’s got what they’ve got.

“I know seasonal allergies when I see them, feel them, hear them,” she said. “I’d say the symptoms have worsened in the last four to five years.”

For as long as there is warm weather, hay fever sufferers will continue to, well, suffer. Roughly 20 percent of the population suffers from nasal allergies.

“It can be something that can affect quality of life and can account for absences from school or work if not well contained,” Ramanuja said.

If someone is suffering from allergies has never seen a doctor about it, Ramanuja recommends starting with a primary care physician. Also, at any time, anyone can book an appointment with an allergist.