The unusually warm weather has set off tree pollens more than two weeks earlier than usual. Allergist Justin Skripak of ENT and Allergy Associates in Oradell and Hoboken tells us how that affects allergy sufferers, and answers a few other important questions as we head into spring.
What does the early start mean to allergy sufferers?
The season starting early doesn't guarantee it'll be worse for an individual and it doesn't guarantee that the pollen counts are going higher than they typically do, but overall we expect the season to last a couple weeks longer than it would. So overall, more people will probably suffer and more people will probably suffer worse.
What can seasonal allergy sufferers do to help themselves?
The No. 1 thing to do if you have seasonal allergies is to keep the windows shut in the house. Also, keep the windows shut in the car and use the air conditioner on re-circulate.
How does someone know the difference between allergies and a cold?
If there is fever or chills or aches, you need to think more about an infection. Allergies are frequently more associated with itch, so itchy nose, itchy eyes, itchy ears, itchy throat are frequent symptoms of allergies. If it lasts more than a week, you need to think more about allergies.
When should people go to an allergist instead of buying over-the-counter allergy medication on their own?
There are two big reasons to see an allergist. One is for medicine. If you're using the over-the-counter medicine and it's helping just a little bit or not at all, that's one definite reason to go see an allergist.
The other reason is to clarify if it is allergies at all. I see many people who have allergy-like symptoms who turn out not to have any allergies. They are sometimes people who are self medicating or even being followed by their primary care doctor. You can make a diagnosis of allergy when it's not based on symptoms alone. So testing is very useful to determine if there are allergies.
And if you do have allergies, the test can tell you how to modify the exposure and decrease the symptoms without medicine or with less medicine.
Does testing mean getting repeatedly pricked with a needle?
The testing can be done either by skin testing, which some people call skin prick or pin prick, and there is a simple blood test available too.