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After a seemingly endless western Pennsylvania winter, there is nothing quite as nourishing for the soul as the sounds of spring. But, if you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, it might be hard to enjoy the chirping of songbirds through your own noisy sniffles and sneezing.

According to Dr. Peter White, an ear, nose and throat and allergy specialist here in our neck of the woods, March, April and May are the pollination period for the plants that trigger spring allergies.

“Trees, grass and weeds are the main culprits,” White says.

Although the pollination period is fairly predictable from region to region, the timing can be thrown off by factors like a mild winter, which can cause plants to pollinate slightly ahead of schedule. And, an early spring can promote more rapid plant growth than usual, leading to an increase in mold, which can cause allergic reactions to occur well into the fall.

Speaking of symptoms, allergies are often misunderstood as a minor condition; but, ask anyone who deals with the runny nose, sneezing, coughing and itchy red eyes, and they will tell you they are anything but. Not only are they uncomfortable and inconvenient, they can be life-altering, causing sleepless nights followed by long, groggy days.

White recommends a simple, straightforward approach to controlling allergies and their symptoms.

“First, avoid the things you are sensitive to,” he said.

However, if that’s impossible and you do fall prey to symptoms, there are a wide variety of over-the-counter medications that can help manage the discomfort.

Review.com’s top pick of OTC antihistamines is Nasacort Allergy 24-Hour. A nasal spray is more effective as a stand-alone defense and its active ingredient, triamcinolone, treats inflammation locally without disrupting your entire adrenal system, which causes drowsiness and dry mouth. This once-daily formula is free of alcohol and perfumes, does not cause drowsiness and is cost-effective at just 10 cents per dose.

For those whose nose simply cannot tolerate a spray, Allegra Allergy 24 Hour pills will work well, too. The active ingredient, fexofenadine, won’t make you drowsy, either, and it’s available in both tablets and gel caps. At 35 cents per dose, it’s a little more expensive than the nasal spray, but is an ideal alternative.

The most severe allergy symptoms include wheezing and congestion, and warrant a consultation with a physician. Management of these more serious allergies often includes a regimen of long-term shots or sublingual tablets that dissolve under your tongue. And, if at any time your symptoms accelerate to the point of tightness or discomfort in your chest, it’s time to visit your nearest emergency department for immediate attention.

Spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to controlling allergies. “It’s very important to manage your environment,” White says.

Since pollen is airborne, a heavy duty, whole-house air filtration system combined with scrupulous cleaning will go a long way to keep the irritants at bay.

Don’t be surprised if you develop a sensitivity that you never had before at any stage of life. White explains that with age, our immune system evolves, and it’s not at all unusual for new allergies to crop up.

“Anyone can develop a new allergy at any time,” he said. “But, they are most common in older children and young adults.”

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