Allergy season just weeks off

Consider Chris Motes a warning.


Motes, 22, got allergy shots in both arms Tuesday at Augusta Family Allergy & Immunology to try to help him with allergies that plague him all year long but get bad in the spring.

"We're still in the buildup phase," Dr. Vanitcha R. Pintavorn said. "I'm trying to keep going to be able to get to maintenance (level) before spring."

Spring is when many in the Augusta area suffer severe allergies, beginning with tree pollen, and that season is not far off, said Dr. Dennis Ownby, the chief of allergy and immunology for Georgia Health Sciences University.

The season is ready to begin in south Georgia, and Augusta is probably two weeks behind that, he said.

"Obviously, if we get two or three days of really warm weather, that will speed things up," Ownby said. "If it stays cold and dreary, then it will slow things up by a little bit."

Pintavorn says it might not even be that far off.

"In our area, spring comes early," she said. "Just a good few rains, good temperatures and sun and, wow, we already see grass sprouting. And then the tree buds coming out."

With a lot of viruses circulating at the same time, it can be hard for patients to distinguish what is causing their misery. Though there is no absolute rule, allergies generally don't cause fever, and colds resolve themselves within a couple of weeks, Ownby said.

The timing of the symptoms is another good clue, he said.

"The likelihood that you get a viral infection at exactly the same time of year every year is pretty small," Ownby said. "The chances that your allergies will come at the same time of year, year after year, are quite good."

For those who know they suffer spring allergies early every year, when the weather starts to turn warm, now is the time to see a specialist and begin the medication before symptoms start, the allergists said.

"If you try to just take it on days when you're feeling bad, you probably aren't going to get any real benefit at all," Ownby said. "If you can start it before your nose really starts getting inflamed, that helps, too."

The good news is that more allergy medication is available this year without a prescription, Pintavorn said. The bad news is that often means insurance won't cover them, she said.

"It will be more of a burden for patients," Pintavorn said.

After starring on the tennis team at Furman University, Motes returned to Augusta and found his allergies grew worse. Still, it hasn't kept him from getting outside and doing what he wants.

"Getting shots and doing something about it really just makes it easier," Motes said.

Know your symptoms

There are some ways to distinguish between a cold and viruses circulating this time of year and allergies that might soon be cropping up as trees begin to pollinate.

COLDS: Runny nose, often more painful than itchy; sometimes fever, usually lasts one to two weeks

ALLERGIES: Runny nose, often more itchy than painful; sometimes accompanied by itchy eyes or itchy roof of mouth; almost never fever; often lasts several weeks and often begins at the same time of year every year.

Sources: Georgia Health Sciences University; Augusta Family Allergy & Immunology