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Sneezing more? Blame the 'pollen vortex'


April showers may bring May flowers, but May flowers bring something that millions dread every year—pollen, the nemesis of allergy sufferers everywhere.

This week on Take Care,Dr. Linda Cox discusses why this year’s allergy season may be more difficult than most. Dr. Cox is an allergist and immunologist from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and is also president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Linda Cox.

You may have heard of the “polar vortex” this winter from weather forecasters trying to explain why this winter seemed snowier than usual in some areas. And that hard winter is exactly why some people are calling allergy season 2014 a “pollen vortex.”

According to Dr. Cox, in an average year with an average length winter, the average allergy season happens like this:

“You have your winter, your winter stops, it warms up and then you have your early trees that pollinate. And then they are done, and then you have your late trees that pollenate.” After trees have pollinated, then grass begins to pollenate.

Staggered pollination is the norm, but this year’s late winter could throw everything off, causing that so-called pollen vortex.

“Because we had such a long winter, you’re now getting all the trees pollinating at the same time,” said Dr. Cox.

With such a sudden blast of different kinds of pollen being released at once, people allergic to multiple types of pollen will probably find themselves sneezing and sniffling more due to higher concentrations of it in the air.

“You’re going to get more symptomatic because you’re having a higher load of allergen exposure,” said Dr. Cox.

For those who suffer the most severe pollen allergies, Dr. Cox says avoidance is the best strategy.

“Stay indoors as much as possible. Keep your windows closed in your car and home,” she said.

Dr. Cox recommends getting outside activities done in the early morning, when airborne pollen concentration is at its lowest.

For those that only suffer mild symptoms from pollen exposure, Dr. Cox says, “you have a nice spectrum of medication currently available over the counter.”

These include:

  • Saline rinses—used for irrigating the nose with saltwater solutions. Sterile water should be used, and studies have shown that these rinses have a positive effect on treating nasal symptoms.
  • Antihistamines—These include commonly known allergy medicines (Benadryl, Zyrtec, etc.) that work best for runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. Dr. Cox says they tend to not be very effective in treating nasal congestion.
  • Nasal steroids—These need to be used on a regular basis in order to work. Dr. Cox says they are the most effective over-the-counter medication to treat congestion.