Last month's record-breaking warm weather has fooled Mother Nature, triggering early pollen production, and along with it, an early start to spring allergy season.
With sneezing, coughing, runny noses, watery, itchy eyes on the rise, so are sales of allergy remedies, says Bill Caperci, pharmacist at Gloucester's Conley Drugs on Railroad Avenue.
But, adds Caperci, it's a matter of buyer beware.
Your typical over-the-counter antihistamine's active ingredient is diphenhydramine hydrochloride, sold as a generic and under the trade name Benadryl; it is also the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleep-aids. So unless you want a great day's sleep, Caperci recommends you read labels carefully and use those containing diphenhydramine hydrochloride only at bed time.
For day time, Caperci says, he recommends his customers use non-drowsy formula Claritin or Allegra, both huge-selling over-the-counter remedies with proven track records for efficacy and safety.
The ideal pollen remedy, of course, says Caperci, would be rain.
"April showers," he says, "don't just bring May flowers, but tamp down pollen, literally keeping a lid on it."
In that vein, this April's combination of dry air and high winds are fanning the spread of pollen just as they've fanned wildfires such as the one that beset parts of Gloucester's Dogtown last week.
Recent daily pollen counts have soared to "severe" on New England's www.pollen.com website; Thursday, Gloucester's recorded levels peaked at a miserable 9.2 for allergy sufferers, and are headed for an even sneezier, miserable 11.0 out of a possible 12 on Saturday, despite the cooler weather.
There are three types of outdoor pollen — tree, grass and weed — all of which trigger the inflammatory histamine response in the body's immune system.
The degree to which your particular body chemistry triggers a histamine response to pollens, in particular, determines the power this fine "plant powder" has to make your life a misery.
"A person's allergic response to pollen usually starts in childhood," says Dr. Karen Damico, a family practioner with Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital.
"It may change with age," she added, "but it's usually evident early, so you can take early preventive steps to 'nip it in the bud' each allergy season."
Apart from starting on appropriate antihistamine therapy (pediatric, doctor-recommended doses for children), Damico says "it's a good idea to do daily nasal rinses with saline to decrease irritating allergens' buildup in the nasal passages."
An estimated 35 million Americans — or roughly one in seven — suffer from pollen-borne allergies. With most symptoms — runny nose, sneezing and headaches — centering around the nasal passage, a good, simple, non-pharmacalogical nasal rinse certainly seems to make sense.
And, with most over-the counter antihistamines typically costing about $30 for a month's supply, it's healthy on the family budget, too.
Staff writer Brian Messenger contributed to this story by Joann Mackenzie. She can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or email@example.com.
Herbal remedies for spring allergies
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, nature offers a number of herbal remedies to help ease your sniffles and sneezes.
Chamomile's anti-inflammatory properties offer relief to dry, itchy eyes. Try placing refrigerated, wet chamomile tea bags over your eyes for 3 to 5 minutes.
Stinging nettle acts as an antihistamine in the body; it targets the immune system's response to an allergen, helping to reduce allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes and sneezing. Try taking 300 to 500 mg of stinging nettle capsules daily, or look for tea made from fresh freeze-dried leaves.
Peppermint: The combination of peppermint's menthol oils and tannins makes it a powerful decongestant. Improve breathing by steeping fresh or dried peppermint leaves in boiling water to create a sinus-clearing tea.
Thyme: An antimicrobial and expectorant herb, thyme is useful at treating coughs, clearing congestion and soothing sore throats. Steep 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme to create a tea, or try commercially prepared thyme tea bags.
Honey's healing and expectorant qualities make it a great natural treatment for easing coughs and soothing sore throats. A spoonful in a cup of tea ought to the do the trick, or combine the powers of honey and thyme (or other expectorant herbs) in this recipe for soothing herbal honey.
Ginger: A natural pain killer, ginger can help soothe the irritation of a sore throat. It's especially powerful when combined with honey. Simmer 1 teaspoon of fresh, grated ginger or 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried, powdered form in a cup of water for five to 10 minutes to create a ginger tea. Add honey.
SOURCE: Susan Melgren, web editor of Natural Home & Garden magazine. Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/herbal-remedies-for-spring-allergies.html#ixzz1rlEa4mpa