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How to Fight Off Seasonal Allergies

But the long winter could be good news, according to CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. Ashton said on "The Early Show" an allergist told her the wet weather, however, could drive up the "sneeze factor" because of the excess pollen in the air when trees and grass start growing again.

Special Section: Dr. Jennifer Ashton

Ashton also pointed out a recent Italian study, that suggests global warming could be triggering a longer allergy season -- and increase the number of people affected -- which means patients need to take their medications earlier and longer. She added the 60 million affected by allergic rhinitis, also known as seasonal allergies, has been increasing.

Seasonal allergies are often mixed up with cold symptoms. Ashton said allergy symptoms include watery or itchy eyes, problems with smell and sore throat.

"Generally, it's about timing and how long you've had symptoms," she said. "If you always get sick the same time of year -- start sneezing and a scratchy throat in March or April -- it might be allergies. Cold symptoms last 7 to10 days with a gradual onset. Allergies symptoms last weeks or months, and they can come on suddenly."

If you do suffer from allergies, Ashton recommended this allergy checklist:

KNOW YOUR POLLEN COUNT - Pollen is a common trigger for allergies. The pollens that cause hay fever vary from person to person and from region to region. Large, visible pollens are seldom responsible for hay fever. Tiny, hard to see pollens more often cause hay fever. You can get your daily pollen index from your local weather reports or online.
CHECK THE WEATHER - Hot, dry, windy days are more likely to have increased amounts of pollen in the air than cool, damp, rainy days when most pollen is washed to the ground. Schedule outdoor activities for later in the afternoon. Pollen counts tend to be higher in the morning.
DON'T BRING THE OUTSIDE INSIDE - From the Mayo Clinic: Remove clothes you've worn outside; you may also want to shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair. Ban your pets from your bed or couch -- pollen clings to pet fur. Don't hang laundry outside -- pollen can stick to sheets and towels. Keep windows and doors shut at home. Your screens will not keep out those tiny pollens and molds that may find their way to your eyes and nose even while inside the house. Consider running the a/c earlier in the year if it gets stuffy. Keep the car windows up. When in your car, keep your windows up. If you can adjust your vent to re-circulate inter-compartment air, do it! Sorry, this also means keeping the sunroof closed.

Unfortunately, there isnt a cure for allergies -- but there are many types of medications available like antihistamines or decongestants to help ease those annoying symptoms, Ashton said.

"If you're out gardening this spring or outside doing yard work, take your antihistamine at least two hours before going out if it is a once or twice daily pill," she said. "Allergy shots are also available, which can gradually increase your ability to tolerate allergens."

She also suggested washing out your nose with a nasal irrigation pot.

"Keep some nasal saline around to rinse out your nasal passages two or three times a day when allergy symptoms are more active," she said. "Many people have discovered that sinus drainage and congestion is greatly reduced by once or twice daily nasal rinses with saline."

Ashton added if allergies are affecting your everyday quality of life or if you want to stop the problem at its start, allergy shots may also be another option.

If you think you child may be affected by allergies, Ashton suggested making an appointment with a board-certified sinus and allergy specialist.

"Saline irrigation is the easiest treatment, either with a neti pot, squeeze bottle, or irrigating system. Antihistamines are also very helpful," she said.

Ashton continued, "But, if possible, parents can also take up the carpeting in their child's room and replace with wood, linoleum, or tile floors. Also, remove dust-catching drapes from their children's room. If their kids have been outside and rolling around in the grass, take their clothes off before they reach their bedroom, and give them a bath. Certainly use air conditioners and purifiers. And, again, be sure to clean the filters."

According to WebMD, allergies can develop at any age, possibly even in the womb. They commonly occur in children but may give rise to symptoms for the first time in adulthood. Asthma may persist in adults while nasal allergies tend to decline in old age.

For more information on allergies, go to WebMD's allergy information center.

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