Spring is just around the corner, which means sunnier days, outdoor activities, and…allergies. If you’re one of millions of Americans who suffer from allergies, you know that itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose go hand in hand with the beginning of spring. If you’ve never experienced allergies before but suspect you may have developed them, now is the time to brush up on your allergy knowledge. To find out more about how you can prepare yourself for the season, we chatted with Christina McConnell, DNP and ARNP.

Q. What do allergy symptoms look like?

Christina: Seasonal allergies can happen any time of the year but seem to be most prevalent in the spring. The most common symptoms are itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion and runny nose. With more severe allergies the patient will also notice puffiness around the eyes. Patients with persistent allergies may notice a dark hue under their eyes—we call these allergic shiners—or a crease on the nose from constantly pushing up on a runny nose. We call this the allergic salute.

Q. How can you differentiate between cold and flu symptoms and allergies?

Christina: There are a few key differentiators. First, allergies never cause a fever or general aches and pains. Second, a cold will only last for 3-14 days whereas allergies will last for around 6 weeks or as long as the allergen is present. Every now and then I can see fluid behind the tympanic membrane (ear drum) — interestingly those are the people who tell me their ears itch or pop. Finally, if our patients complain of a sore throat we will take a look since this is more common in a cold than allergies.

Q. What are some of the most common misconceptions about allergies?

Christina: One of the most common is that you either have allergies or you don’t. The reality is that people can develop allergies any time in their life. If you’ve never had allergies, but start to develop symptoms when allergy season hits, there’s a good chance you’ve got them.

Q. Do you recommend people self-medicate or see their provider?

Christina: If you recognize that you have allergies and you have a plan that works every time, then by all means self-medicate. But if allergies are new to you or you’re not having luck treating the symptoms, then come in and see your provider.

Q. What are some homeopathic remedies for allergies?

Christina: Some of the best treatments are preventive practices. When you come home at the end of the day, change your clothes and immediately take a shower to get rid of allergens that you’ve attracted just from being outside. Keeping your windows closed can also help. For a great homeopathic remedy, a nasal rinse is a wonderful way to clear out allergens from your nasal cavity, where they do the most harm. The nasal rinse is highly recommended as a precursor to any kind of antihistamine nasal spray.

Q. Beyond homeopathic remedies and preventive practices, what’s available for people with allergies?

Christina: There are a variety of over-the-counter antihistamine medications that your provider can recommend. And for patients with more severe allergies, there are prescription antihistamines and nasal sprays that can also help.

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