NEW YORK (CBS) Look around your office or classroom and you're likely to see more than a few red, itchy-looking eyes, runny noses and some pretty miserable folks. Those would be some of the more than 25 million seasonal allergy sufferers who are having quite a time of it this year.
The exceptionally wet and cold winter combined with a late turn to spring have made this a record breaking season with pollen counts that are nothing to sneeze at.
The levels are high everywhere, but the problem appears especially severe in the Southeast, where oak trees are the main culprit. The trees produce 3,000 to 6,000 pollen particles per cubic meter. It only takes 10 particles to trigger an allergic reaction.
The Ashtma and Allergy Foundation of America compile a list of each year's most challenging places for allergy sufferers to live. This year's top cities are Knoxville, Tenn., Louisville, Ky., Chattanooga, Tenn., Dayton, Ohio and Charlotte, N.C.
While it might be nice to know you aren't suffering alone, you probably want to know how to stop the suffering all together.
There is no cure for hay fever, but you can chose to treat it with either over-the-counter medications or you can see your doctor for a prescription. Several categories of drugs may help alleviate the symptoms.
Antihistamines will calm runny or itches noses and silence your sneezing. They are not without side effects however. Many people experience drowsiness (serious enough to make driving a car or operating machinery unwise) dry mouth or blurry vision.
Decongestants are another choice for allergy treatment. They decrease nasal congestion by causing blood vessel constriction and reduced blood flow to the nasal passage. Decongestants may increase blood pressure, cause or aggravate existing heart rhythm abnormalities, and/or cause difficulty falling asleep.
Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are another choice treatment for allergies. They reduce inflammation but will only be effective if they are taken daily and that means even when your symptoms aren't most intense.
If your child is suffering from allergies, you might want to discuss the treatment options with your pediatrician. Not all allergy over-the-counter medicines are suitable for very young children and the doctor may want to prescribe something in particular. Also, in some cases, allergies can develop into allergic asthma. If the runny nose and sneezing give way to wheezing and coughing, you should absolutely take the child to the doctor's office.
Another way to fight back against allergies is to avoid pollen as much as possible. You probably won't be able to stay indoors completely, but knowing when pollen counts are worst can help you chose your outdoor times wisely.
Pollen counts tend to be highest between 8 a.m. and noon and again between 5 and 9 p.m.
Pollen counts fall during times of higher humidity and rise during low humidity; the warmer the temperature, the greater the pollen.
Other tips for keeping the pollen at bay include:
- Change clothes as soon as you come home. Pollen attaches to clothing, so throw dirty items in the wash immediately. Also, take a shower to remove pollen buildup from your hair.
- Use air conditioning instead of open windows.
- Change filters on heating/cooling units frequently.
- Spend time near the ocean where pollen is less pervasive.
- Wear sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.
Bathe pets often. They can carry pollen indoors on their fur so keep the animals out of your bedroom and off the furniture.
If none of these tips provide comfort, you might take heart in knowing that experts say tree pollen season should subside within a few weeks, but some of you will continue to suffer because grass and weed allergies rise in the summer months.