LAKE LINDEN - They may not compare to shoveling snow in May, but the itchy throats and runny noses that come with warmer temperatures are annoying in their own right.
Allergy season starts up as soon as the snow melts, as plants begin blooming and pollen spreads, said Shannon Handler, nurse practitioner at the Aspirus Keweenaw Family Clinic in Lake Linden.
When a patient comes in asking about allergies, Handler will ask them about symptoms. Stuffiness is one. An even bigger sign is itchiness.
"With allergies, you'll get like an itchy, scratchy feeling in your throat, your eyes will be itchy and kind of dry, your nose will be running and congested," she said. "You can have facial pressure and pain like you would from a sinus infection but it's just pressure from drainage."
Handler will then look in the patient's ears, eyes, sinuses and throat for signs of allergies. One smoking gun is swelling in the sinuses. After a certain amount of swelling, the sinuses are likely to accumulate more bacteria, which can lead to a secondary infection.
"A lot of times the treatments we do are to treat the secondary infection - not the allergy, but because they have the allergy for so long, they got an infection," Handler said.
Drainage for the allergies occurs in all facial ducts. It can lead to itchiness in the throat and plugging and unplugging in the ears.
"Most of the time in adults, it's worse in the morning, because you're sleeping, and it drains into your ear, and then you stand up and it comes out," Handler said.
For treatment, Handler takes a "multidisciplinary approach." The first approach is to find out what's causing the allergy. Sometimes it can be avoided; sometimes, like with airborne exposure from spring mold and melting, exposure is inevitable.
When avoidance won't work, temporary treatments are available. Steroids can decrease the swelling that helps foster allergies. Antihistamines can stop the itching and the drip. A mast cell inhibitor affects the part that causes drainage.
"If you have year-round allergies, that's a great one to use," Handler said.
Benadryl is the strongest of the antihistamines, but its side effects and short duration (six hours) leave many people looking for more palatable alternatives. Zyrtec is the next strongest, followed by Allegra and Claritin.
"Anything you take is going to give you some sort of effect, but having allergies will give you some sort of effect," Handler said.
To avoid side effects entirely, some patients will have a sinus rinse, which can rinse airborne allergens off the sinuses.
Handler can also do referrals for allergy testing for people who want to know what specific allergies they may have. The most common method is by pricking the skin with a specific allergen, then measuring the amount of the body's reaction 24 hours later.
"They can tell, based on that amount of reaction, what your allergy is, because your body produces a certain amount of antibodies to everything," Handler said. "They can also do that as a blood test, but that is less specific for the type of allergies that make your nose run."
But even the most effective medication will take time to work, Handler said.
"It's not like the next day you're going to notice that you're 100 percent better," she said. "It'll be two or three days. Then if you check a week, 10 days later, that allergen might not be present in the air again."