Two weeks ago, I was sitting in an urgent-care facility with a doctor feeling my neck. I had what felt like a swollen lymph node -- something not terribly uncommon for me throughout my life -- and wanted to make sure I wasn't dying. The doctor said he didn't feel anything significant and, for the most part, I looked pretty healthy, but then he asked, "Do you have allergies?"
The query puzzled me for a second. I have what one might refer to as mild sinus problems, but they rarely extend beyond a sniffle here or there in spring and fall. At worst, that sniffle might develop into a sinus infection, but not much more than that. Given I had no fever, aches or seriously stuffy head, I could only surmise that, yes, I must have some allergies. But I've been here all my life and rarely suffered. Turns out this year has been worse than most and, to increase our local pain and suffering, the longer we've been here, the worse it is.
"The longer you are in a particular city, the more likely you are to have allergies," says Dr. Joshua Septimus, an internist with Houston Methodist Hospital. "The more you are exposed to an allergen, the more likely you are to have a response." And he admitted that he and his fellow physicians have seen a fairly significant uptick in the number of patients with complaints of severe allergies this year.
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The question is why. According to Septimus, it's the weather. "We went through a period early in the year when we were really dry and bordering on drought," he explained, "And we've been drowned in rain over the past several weeks." The extreme weather conditions has made it worse for allergy sufferers and likely intensified symptoms.
These symptoms include anything that appears similar to a cold, from sinus problems to systemic inflammation like my swollen lymph glands. Some even get a low-grade fever. "There's a reason sometime's it's called 'hay fever,'" Septimus said.
The good news is that relief is in sight. Allergy season begins to subside about the same time the weather gets hotter -- at least one reason to hope for the heat of summer. Until then, Septimus suggests over the counter antihistamines like Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec in combination with Nasacort to help relieve symptoms. But he warns against use of the decongestant forms of these (Allegra D, for example) for anything other than diagnosed infections as they can raise blood pressure.
So, if you have been hacking, sniffling and coughing this year, you are not alone. You can at least take solace in the fact that we all are suffering and the worst of it is nearly over...until September.