For allergy and asthma sufferers in Atlanta, there are effectively three seasons: summer, winter and pollen.
With a warmer than average winter, high pollen counts have already been reported across the U.S. In Atlanta, this warmer than usual weather triggered an early release of tree pollen. As a result, pollen counts started rising in mid-February. This means allergy season is already here — which may seem unfair, considering we are still at the tail end of flu season.
Click here to learn more about pollen counts and what the numbers mean.
Respiratory allergies, such as asthma and allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever), flare up because of a heightened immune system response to pollen particles. Allergic rhinitis produces the typical sneezing and runny nose associated with pollen season, as well as itchy watery eyes. You can also experience itching in your ears, nose and throat.
For some people, this is mildly irritating but can be handled by staying indoors when pollen counts are high. Symptoms are also treatable with over-the-counter or prescription medications. A primary care physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant can help. Older adults, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk to their health care provider before taking over-the-counter medications.
However, allergic rhinitis can set the stage for viral or bacterial infections to take hold in your sinuses, ears, throat and chest. If left untreated, these infections can develop into more serious conditions.
Tip: Not sure whether you have allergies or a sinus infection? If it’s allergies, your mucus will often be clear. Mucus that’s cloudy, white, yellow or greenish can indicate a sinus infection.
Pollen sensitivity can also trigger asthma or bronchitis, both of which are conditions that affect airways in our lungs and can cause shortness of breath and wheezing. Asthma is caused by muscles tightening around the airways, causing them to narrow and restrict the amount of air that gets in your lungs. Meanwhile, bronchitis occurs when the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and is usually caused by an infection. It’s possible to suffer from both at the same time, which is called asthmatic bronchitis.
Where to Get Relief for Your Allergies
Start with your primary care physician. Because your PCP knows your complete health history and how you respond to medication, he or she can develop the best course of treatment. If you have ongoing or severe allergy or asthma issues, your primary care physician can also refer you to a specialist.
MinuteClinics and Urgent Care Centers are good alternatives if you need to see a health care provider sooner than you can see your PCP, or if you need care outside of your PCPs normal office hours.
Emergency rooms are best for life threatening health concerns, and a severe asthma attack can certainly require emergency care. Respiratory infections with high fevers that don’t respond to medicine are another example of good time to visit the ER.
When in doubt, don’t hesitate to call your PCP or the Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777 and speak to an Emory nurse for assistance.
About Dr. Colovos
Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993, and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo Ohio in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a very unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as Medical Director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and CVS MinuteClinic Strategy. Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta Georgia
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