If you’re coughing or sneezing this time of year, with a nose either stuffy or runny, it must be the common cold, right?
With the run of unseasonably warm temperatures, including a handful of days in the 70s, Kansas City is seeing an early spring — and with that, an early start to the allergy season.
Kansas City is seeing a high amount of elm and juniper pollens, which typically start first, said Jay Portnoy, director of the allergy/asthma/immunology division at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
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“When we start seeing juniper, then we know the season is about to get started, and we have been seeing juniper for several weeks now — we started about the second week of February,” said Portnoy, whose division does a daily pollen and mold count.
That’s about two to three weeks earlier than usual. But there has been a worldwide trend progressing over the past 15 years where pollen seasons have been starting earlier and ending later in the fall.
Blame the warmer weather.
“It’s great for plants but it’s bad for us allergy sufferers,” Portnoy said.
The pollen count for Thursday was 1,312 particles per cubic meter, which is “really, really high,” he said.
Fifteen years ago, pollen counts of a couple hundred were considered high, he said.
“Now it’s almost routine to see counts that are over 1,000,” he said. “The pollen counts have been getting higher over the years. So at 1,300, anybody who has even an ounce of allergy is going to have symptoms.”
Those symptoms include sneezing and itching, watery eyes and runny or stuffy noses.
The good news is that over-the-counter medicine can ease allergy symptoms, said John D. Martinez, assistant professor in the allergy, clinical immunology and rheumatology department at the University of Kansas Health System.
When Martinez’s 84-year-old mother called him Sunday night asking what she could do for her symptoms, he told her to take an antihistamine-decongestant such as a generic Zyrtec-D, Claritin-D or Allegra-D along with a cortisone nose spray.
Because the symptoms can be similar, you could have trouble determining whether you have a cold or an allergy.
Time of year is a good indication.
“A patient, who for the first time in October or November or December or January or, in the past, February, is starting to have cold symptoms, it generally is a cold,” Martinez said.
There typically isn’t anything that starts pollinating or producing spores in the colder months of the year. Likewise, if you start having symptoms in May and June, that’s a little late for a cold, but it’s peak for grass pollen allergy season.
Another clue: If you routinely have cold symptoms recurring the same time every year, that’s likely an allergy. Itchy eyes, nose or throat would suggest you have an allergy rather than a cold.
However, if you have a fever or muscle aches and pains, you probably have a cold.
Even though Kansas City got an early start on the allergy season, Martinez said he doesn’t think the season will come to an early end. Rather, he thinks it will be a longer allergy season this year even if there is a good freeze.
“This is an unusual year,” he said. “I’m sorry for the allergy patients of the world.”