ADC Allergist Scott Oberhoff, MD, discusses winter allergies and how you can tell the difference between allergies and a cold.
Between January and March, many Central Texans will experience winter allergies brought on by cedar pollen and weather changes. These changes may, cause nasal symptoms, coughing, sneezing and other respiratory illnesses to be at their worst. ADC allergists, Dr. Scott Oberhoff, Dr. John Villacis and Nurse Practitioner Kris Flury help people prepare in the fall or the beginning of winter season to prepare for those allergens that may cause it to be a bad winter.
What are the top winter allergens?
In the Austin and Central Texas area, cedar pollen is the dominant allergen typically starting in late December, through January into early February. Mold particles can also be in the high counts, especially when the winter season is rainy and wet. Molds are usually a “year-round” allergen with different molds being more prevalent at different times of the year. Additionally, grass pollens may also have higher counts towards the end of winter and early spring in mid-February through March and April.
How can you tell if you have allergies or a cold?
The differences between diagnosing winter allergies or a cold can be difficult to tease out. Dr. Oberhoff says both will give you a runny nose, congestion and sneezing so he uses a few key symptoms to make the conclusive diagnosis.
Signs of allergies in an individual include itchy eyes, itchy nose and sneezing attacks. These are usually the hallmarks of allergy symptoms. Also, patients who take an antihistamine and have a positive response find this is also key to diagnosing allergies versus a cold. According to Dr. Oberhoff, colds also tend to start quickly, progress after about three to four days, hit their peak and then typically resolve over the next week or so. Allergies however will continue to be problematic as long as there is exposure, or as long as the cedar pollen, mold or grass counts are high. Although medications may help initially, ultimately, allergy testing may be necessary to pinpoint the allergen and focus your treatment options.
What precautions should you take?
Individuals start their medications at the earliest signs and symptoms of itchy eyes, sneezing that may occur with increased cedar or pollens in the air. If the allergy symptoms do occur start taking your antihistamines and using your nasal sprays and other allergy medications before the season begins is generally much more effective at offsetting symptoms. However, if a patient’s symptoms have already begun, it is important to get on those medications as soon as possible and to continue taking them throughout the rest of the season. This will help reduce inflammation and help manage symptoms better.
How do you treat allergies?
ADC’s allergy department offers three basic options for allergy treatment:
- One – patients are advised to avoid the allergen
- Two – use medications to treat allergy symptoms
- Three – use immunotherapy such as allergy shots or allergy drops