Your nose is dripping, the back of your throat is scratchy, and your eyes just won’t stop watering.

Yes, it’s allergy season, and this year, it seems to have arrived early.

“This has been a humdinger of a season,” said Dr. Teresa Farrington, a pulmonologist affiliated with Inland Hospital.

“There have been a lot of people, myself included, who have been kind of miserable with their allergies in the last couple of weeks,” Farrington said recently.

Allergies can strike at any age and last a lifetime; sometimes, people outgrow them.

Some people develop perennial allergies, such as to dogs and cats; and then there are seasonal ones — trees, in the spring; grass, which typically causes problems around Memorial Day; and ragweed, from late summer to the first frost in mid-October or so.

But how do you know if you have an allergy or if you’ve got a cold? How do you seek relief? When do you call a doctor?

Those who specialize in allergies offer some advice.

“Really, nobody should feel bad with allergies,” says Dr. Joseph Frazer, who is certified in allergy and immunology and affiliated with MaineGeneral Health. “There’s always something that can be done. You don’t have to suffer.”

Frazer says a big difference between allergies and a cold is that with allergies, you typically have itchy eyes, throat and nose, and sneeze frequently. If you have a cold, your nose and eyes don’t usually itch that much. A cold doesn’t affect only the nose — you can feel rotten and have a fever, too, Frazer said. And colds do not typically last longer than a week, he said, while allergy symptoms persist.

Farrington says that for the most part, when you have an allergy, your nasal drainage is clear and watery; with a cold or viral infection, it’s more “goopy,” cloudy, greenish.

Seasonal allergies may be treated in three ways: avoiding the stimulus, such as pollen; taking medication; or undergoing shots or immunology.

There are over-the-counter antihistamines that are effective. Frazer does not recommend taking Benadryl because it affects one’s attention span, sleep and ability to work.

But he and Farrington said non-sedating antihistamines, such as Claritin, are effective for many people.

“They’re really good,” Frazer said. “They make very few people sleepy. For people with mild allergies, they help a lot.”

Nasal steroids are an option for people who do not like to take medication; some people take allergy shots, which work well but require a big commitment, according to Frazer.

If you are really miserable with allergies and have a difficult time breathing, prescription medications or steroids may be in order, doctors say.

Farrington suggests allergy sufferers map out when their allergies are likely to occur and pre-treat their conditions. She also advises people who use air conditioners or purifiers to make sure they are clean and their filters maintained.


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