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Spring is in the ... atchoo ... air

April in Kansas brings wonderful seasonal change. The daylight hours begin to lengthen and the start of seasonal warmth marks another spring for Kansans.

It is a time that signifies much change. With that seasonal change, comes seasonal allergies. For fortunate Kansans, allergies are not an issue. However, for others, seasonal allergies can be quite debilitating. When considering this seasonal nuisance, what exactly are seasonal allergies and how can we keep a safe handle on them?

Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, are a group of conditions that may cause sneezing, a stuffy nose or clear nasal drainage. These symptoms occur only at certain times of the year for most people. Most seasonal allergies are caused by:

* Pollens from trees, grasses or weeds.

* Mold spores, which grow when the weather is humid, wet or damp.

Typically, people breathe in the above substances without a problem. However, when a person has a seasonal allergy, his or her immune system acts as if the substance is harmful to the body. This is when those annoying symptoms can occur. Many people get seasonal allergies when they are children or young adults. Many seasonal allergies are considered life-long, but symptoms may get better or worse throughout their lifetime. Seasonal allergies are also known to occasionally run in families.

For other people, their allergy symptoms may last all year. If this is the case then one could consider environmental allergies. People who are continually exposed to the same allergen may have continuous symptoms. Year-round symptoms are usually caused by:

* Insects, such as dust mites and cockroaches.

* Animals, such as cats and dogs.

* Mold spores.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies can include:

* Stuffy nose, runny nose (clear nasal discharge) or sneezing.

* Itchy or red eyes.

* Sore throat, itching of the throat or ears.

* Waking up at night, coughing at night or trouble sleeping.

Is there a test for seasonal allergies? Yes. Speak with your physician about your symptoms. He or she might want to perform additional testing regarding your current physical signs and symptoms. There are skin tests as well as allergy panels that could be performed.

How are seasonal allergies treated? People with seasonal allergies may use one or more of the following treatments to help with their current symptoms:

* Nose rinses, also known as the Nettie Pot. This is a salt-water rinse that flushes the inside of nose and sinuses. If a person is to use this they need to make sure they use distilled, sterile or filtered water. Nasal flush kits may be available for you from your physician.

* Antihistamines. These medications are usually taken on a daily basis during the more difficult times of the year for the patient. They typically need several days to take optimum effect. Sometimes antihistamines can make a person feel tired. It is possible antihistamines could have the opposite effect with children.

* Steroid nasal sprays. These topical medications assist with decreasing the inflammatory response of allergies. Doctors occasionally prescribe these sprays for people who have nasal/sinus complaints. For example, a stuffy nose, sinus pain or pressure, or persistent clear nasal discharge. Nasal steroids could take days to weeks before they work.

* Decongestants. These medications can reduce stuffy nose symptoms, as well as sinus pressure experienced with seasonal allergies. A person should not take these products more than three days in a row. Using decongestant nasal sprays more than three days in a row may make the symptoms worse. This is called "rebound" edema. This happens when the effect of the decongestant wears off and a resulting, "rebound" swelling occurs. The phenomenon is common with people who use decongestant nasal sprays on a chronic basis. If a person has a tendency to have elevated blood pressure readings or a diagnosis of high blood pressure (hypertension), they should not take this type of medication. Always discuss all over-the-counter medications in detail with your physician.

* Allergy shots. Allergy shots are given every week or at another interval prescribed by their physician. Some people find this treatment reduces their symptoms, but it can take many injections and much time (months) to work.

Speak with your physician about the benefits and downsides of the different treatments. You both can come up with a treatment that is right for you and meets all of your needs.

Can seasonal allergy symptoms be prevented? Yes. If you get symptoms around the same time every year, speak with your physician. Some people can prevent symptoms by starting their medication a week or two before that time of the year.

You also can help prevent or minimize symptoms by:

* Staying inside during the times of the year when your symptoms are typically the worst.

* Keeping car and house windows closed, and use air-conditioning instead. Be sure to change your house air-filter regularly.

* Taking a shower before bed to rinse pollen off hair and skin.

* Wear a dust mask during outdoor activities (gardening, cleaning, etc.)

* Considering having your air-ducts professionally cleaned. You might be surprised how dirty those ducts can get.

What if I am or wish to become pregnant? If you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant, always discuss with your doctor about which medicines are safe with pregnancy. Seasonal allergies might get worse, better or stay the same during pregnancy.

April in Kansas is a fantastic month. The daylight hours become more in number and the weather begins to warm. Be sure to get out and enjoy this spring month. If you happen to be a sufferer of seasonal allergies speak with your physician or healthcare provider and get on a program that will allow you to enjoy the Kansas environment. To the reader, I wish a fun-filled April and continued good health.

As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.

Dr. Charkles Weintz is the author of "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician at Stanton County Family Practice.