ST. LOUIS - There's a local proverb that says if you don't like the weather in St. Louis, just wait 10 minutes. That saying gained validity this winter with temperatures into the 60s one week and snow and sleet the next.
|Raymond Slavin, M.D.|
The sharp temperature changes aren't just creating major wardrobe challenges. For people coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose, the weather is also making it harder to diagnose the cause of their symptoms.
According to Raymond Slavin, M.D., professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University and SLUCare allergist, signs of an early allergy season were starting to bloom in early February as significant counts of tree pollen were detected during the area's warm spell. Winter weather since then, however, has made predicting the start of allergy season more difficult while also extending cold season.
"Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms which can make diagnosing the problem more difficult," Slavin said. "However, there are a few distinctions that can help you differentiate between the two."
- Duration: Cold symptoms usually last for only a few days. Allergy symptoms can last weeks or even months when left untreated.
- Timing: Seasonal allergies occur the same time every year. A cold is more sporadic, and is most often contracted during the winter.
- Itching: The presence of itching either in the eyes or nose is a common symptom of an allergy, but rarely occurs with a cold.
- Family history: Allergies to a particular irritant can be passed down genetically. If you have a family history of allergies, your symptoms are more likely to be caused by allergies than a cold.
The prevalence of allergies is nothing to sneeze at. Roughly 40 million Americans suffer from allergies of some kind, and those numbers may be growing.
"Over the last ten years, allergy diseases have increased markedly," Slavin said. "While there have been no definitive explanations for the increase, global warming is believed to be extending the pollen season which may be impacting allergy sufferers."
When left untreated, allergy sufferers can develop allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, leaving the individual more susceptible to sinus infections, ear infections and a predisposition to asthma. Allergies can also cause fatigue and trouble sleeping which can impede an individual's work performance and quality of life.
Though allergies are a common condition, the symptoms can be controlled. Slavin offers the following tips for allergy sufferers:
- Purchase an over-the-counter non-sedative antihistamine such as Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec.
- Resist the urge to roll the windows down while driving. Keeping windows closed both in your home and in your car will help you avoid allergens.
- If the first two steps don't work, seek a physician for a cortisone nasal spray. The medication is a very effective treatment but requires a prescription.
SLUCare, the physician practice of Saint Louis University School of Medicine, is the only academic medical practice in St. Louis that is fully accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care Inc. This accreditation is a voluntary process through which the quality of SLUCare services and performance is measured against nationally recognized standards. To schedule an appointment, call 314-977-4440 or 1-866-977-4440. More information is available at www.slucare.edu.