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Allergy sufferers can expect 3 extra weeks of torment

Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
A still-dormant hydrangea shrub struggles to bloom as a runner crosses the intersection of Allegheny River Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue in Oakmont on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Allergies or a cold?

According to Dr. Merritt Fajt, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, spring allergy season starts today — about three weeks earlier than normal.

Fajt said because spring allergies are arriving so much earlier, folks could have trouble determining whether they have a cold or allergies.

Here are Fajt's tips to tell the difference:

• Allergies don't cause a fever; colds do.

• Allergies would cause itchiness and discomfort in both eyes; colds cause this in only one eye.

• Allergies rarely cause aches and pains; colds often do.

• Allergies cause mucus to be thin and clear; colds cause mucus to appear thick, yellow or green.

By R.A. Monti
Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Winter's cold will be felt well into the spring, especially for allergy sufferers, experts say.

“Allergists are predicting a more severe spring allergy season, with allergies starting even earlier than prior seasons,” said Dr. Merritt Fajt, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

With Thursday being the start of spring, how much sooner will symptoms present themselves?

“About three weeks sooner,” Fajt said. “So, right now.”

Fajt said that while folks were overwhelmed with the term “polar vortex” throughout the winter, it will be another “polar” that causes earlier-than-normal sneezes and sniffles.

“It‘s called ‘polar pollen syndrome,' ” she said. “Because the winter had such heavy precipitation, it caused healthy root systems in trees and pollinating plants.

“These (pollens) will be even more robust than normal,” she said. “We'll be seeing a lot more people with severe allergies.”

Fajt said that most people who suffer from allergies in the spring are allergic to trees and grasses.

“Mainly, it's timothy grass, that's the cause in this area during spring,” she said. “Unlike the late summer and early fall when weeds, particularly ragweed, are the cause.”

Paul Pastelok, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather in State College, said the region can expect cold, wet weather for the foreseeable future.

“At least through the first part of April, it's going to be pretty cold,” Pastelok said. “What follows that will be more back-and-forth: it will warm up, then get a little colder.

“Things are pretty moist as it is,” he said. “I don't see it drying out any time soon.”

According to Pastelok, the Great Lakes reached near-record levels of ice cover this winter, and as that ice evaporates, it will cause colder temperatures.

“When the wind blows across the lake, it takes the cold air (from the lake) with it,” he said. “That is going to have an effect until water temperatures are able to recover.

“It's going to take some time.”

Treating allergies

If allergy problems become severe, sufferers should see a doctor, Fajt said.

“One of the most important things is being tested for allergies to figure out the specific pollens you're allergic to,” she said. “It's a guide to avoidable measures that can be taken.

“Ultimately, allergy shots are the best way to treat (severe) allergies.”

One of simplest things folks can do for minor seasonal allergies, other than taking over-the-counter medications, is a natural remedy, Fajt said.

“If you've been outside, and were exposed to pollens, rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution,” she said.

R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.

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