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Surviving the Spring Pollen

Spring is in full swing! Before we get excited and bolt out the doors for warmer weather, it is important to remember that pollen production is high during this season. Spring allergies can be complex. So, where does pollen come from? How do you prevent the allergies? Here are some things to know.

Common Questions About Allergies

Allergies and asthma have an interesting relationship that can affect everyone in some way. See our “Surviving Allergies and Asthma” blog to learn more about the connection between the two.

Where Does Pollen Come From?

Pollen comes from trees, shrubs, and grass. Every spring, summer, and fall, pollen is released from these plants for fertilization. These tiny grains are carried in the wind and can trigger the common symptoms we know of – runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes. To keep the allergies down to a minimum, try avoiding these plant species:


  • Ash trees are commonly found in North America and produce large amounts of pollen.
  • Birch trees are found in almost every state. This species produces pollen when they flower.
  • Oak trees are found worldwide. There are more than 80 species of oak trees in North America.


  • Forsythia shrubs begin to bloom at the end of winter. The peak pollen production is during spring.
  • Holly shrubs bloom during spring. In the Southeast, the tree version is common and can grow up to 40 feet tall.


  • Zoysia grass is the worst pollen offenders. Growing season for this grass is from early spring to late fall. To keep Zoyia from producing high amounts of pollen, keep the grass short.

Tips to Surviving Spring Pollen

  • Allergy testing is one of the best ways to determine which species can trigger your allergies.
  • Consider removing any of the plant species above or strategically plant them further away from the house/bedroom windows.
  • If you have outdoor plans, take allergy medication before leaving the house. Don’t wait for the symptoms to occur.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Adjust outdoor activities around high pollen counts. Pollen counts are the highest during midday.
  • For additional tips, visit http://emry.link/allergy10.

Know Where to Go

If over the counter medication is not aiding your allergies, consider visiting your primary care physician. Primary care physicians can help connect you with an allergen specialist. Both will work together to help keep your allergen episodes to a minimum.

If you are unable to get renewed prescriptions or unable to get in contact with your primary care physician, urgent care centers and MinuteClinics can provide help with allergies.


Surviving Allergies and Asthma

Allergies and asthma are often partners in crime. With pollen production now in high gear, here are some things you should know, including who to see and where to go if you need treatment.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an estimated 60% of approximately 25 million asthma cases in the U.S. are allergy related, making it the most common type of asthma. Other kinds include:

  • Non-allergic · Exercise-induced, which occurs on during or after physical activity (see our “Understanding Exercise-Induced Asthma” blog for more)
  • Aspirin-induced, caused by a sensitivity to non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen for example
  • Cough-variant, where the chief or even the only sign is a constant dry cough that never produces mucus or phlegm
  • Thunderstorm asthma, which is a form of asthma the occurs when stormy winds and rain break pollen grains into particles small enough to be inhaled into airways (read “A Perfect Storm” in the Winter 2017 edition of Emory Medicine magazine for more)

What Is Asthma?

Regardless of the type or cause, asthma is a disease where the airways in the lungs get inflamed and narrow, making it hard to breathe. Allergic asthma is set off by substances that are usually harmless, but in a person with allergies, their immune system attacks them as an invading threat.

Common allergens that trigger asthma:

  • Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds – notably, ragweed, ryegrass, oak, maple, elm, mulberry and – a southern favorite – pecan
  • Animal dander (tiny flakes of skin shed off by pets)
  • Mold Spores
  • Cockroaches & dust mites (more accurately the feces and body parts they leave behind)

Asthma Symptoms

Whether caused by allergies, exercise, stress, colds, and flu or other irritants, asthma signs are about the same:

  • Coughing (with a cough that’s usually dry and persistent)
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breath)
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tightness in the chest

It’s important to recognize and treat the above signs to prevent a more severe asthma attack.

Symptoms of a Severe Asthma Attack

Call 911 or immediately or go the nearest emergency room if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Not being able to catch your breath even when you’re sitting still
  • No relief or improvement after using a rescue inhaler
  • Problems walking, talking or xxx usual activity
  • Loss of color, or blue coloring, in your face, lips or nails
  • Breathlessness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Swelling of your face, eyes, tongue, as well as your hands or feet
  • The skin between your ribs sucks in

Know Where to Go

If you think you have asthma, it’s important to see a physician for testing and diagnosis. Your primary care physician (PCP) can help manage mild and occasional asthma attacks with either Quick Relief or Long-term Control medication.

But, if your symptoms are more frequent, moderate or severe, a PCP can help connect you with the right specialist, such as an allergist or pulmonologist. Your PCP and specialist should work together with you to keep episodes to a minimum. If you need care or prescriptions renewed and can’t get to your PCP, urgent care centers and MinuteClinics can provide help with asthma and help get allergies under control.

It also bears repeating. If you have severe symptoms or are concerned your life is in danger in any way, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Have questions or need to find the right care? Call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection to speak to an Emory nurse at 404-778-7777.

To find Emory Healthcare providers near you, please visit: emoryhealthcare.org

When to Get a Flu Shot

Get the flu shotIt may be your best chance at preventing the flu—but do you know the best time to get your flu shot?

If you get it too soon, you might not be as well protected. But since it typically takes your body two weeks from the time you get the shot to develop immunity, you don’t want to wait too late.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season usually runs from November through the end of April, so it’s best to get the flu shot as early in October as possible.

Who needs a flu shot?

Everyone’s at risk of being infected with the influenza virus and can spread it to others. That’s why the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against it every year, even if you’ve never had the flu.

If you have a less-developed or compromised immune system, a yearly vaccination is especially important (even critical). Not only are you more likely to get the flu, your body will have a harder time fighting it off or enduring the symptoms should you be infected with the virus. Flu can hit people hard, turn to pneumonia and cause other medical issues.

Flu shots are recommended for almost everyone 6 months and older, but are especially important for:

  • Adults age 65 and over
  • Kids age 6 months to 5 years
  • People with long-term health conditions (asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart or lung disease, HIV, cancer, and more)
  • Transplant recipients
  • Pregnant women

Even the healthiest of people should be vaccinated. If you aren’t convinced you need to protect yourself, consider the need to protect your family, friends, co-workers — even strangers. Some professionals such as health care personnel, early education childcare workers, and school personnel are even required to be vaccinated in order to be employed. Should you get the flu, everyone around you is at risk and some won’t be as equipped to fight off the virus as you are.

To learn more about flu shots, who is at high risk and who should not get them visit: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm

What’s in the flu vaccine?

Many people fear getting a flu shot can actually give them the flu, and some claim to have actually contracted the virus from the vaccination itself. But it simply isn’t possible —the flu vaccine is made of dead flu viruses. Since they’re dead, you can’t catch the flu from them. The flu vaccination can, however, cause side effects like headache, nausea, fever and muscle ache. Since these side effects mimic flu symptoms, people often mistake them for having the flu. But when you have the flu, you’ll know it — your symptoms will be much more severe and longer-lasting.

These dead viruses teach our bodies what the flu looks like — so it learns, over time, to fight the illness. This is a process and can take up to 2 weeks for your body to be able to fight it. So, timing your flu shot is important.

When we talk about the flu vaccine, we usually refer to it as “the flu shot.” But in reality, it is also available as a nasal spray although there is some concern that it isn’t as effective as the shot. Also, if you’re considered high risk for the flu, there is also a high-dosage version of the flu shot available. This offers stronger protection and is usually recommended for those age 65 and older.

Know where to go

Your pediatrician or primary care doctor knows your medical history best. But if your doctor isn’t available, or if it’s easier for you to get your flu shot outside of your doctor’s office hours, minute clinics or urgent care centers are good choices for your flu vaccine.

Emory Healthcare Network partners with MinuteClinic, Peachtree Immediate Care, and Smartcare® Urgent Care. Combined, our urgent care and minute clinic partners provide nearly 60 locations throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding counties. This puts convenient care where you need it, 7 days a week for most of the year.

Learn more about these partnerships

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 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 MinuteClinic Strategy ad Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

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