Early allergies already showing up in patients

Dexter Grier can bench press 300 pounds and heave a shotput 40 feet. But it is a slight dip on his pulmonary function test that has Dr. William Dolen concerned he might be missing doses of his asthma medicine.

“You have a huge lung capacity and you are using most of your lungs,” said Dolen, the interim chief of the section of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at Georgia Regents University. “But using the medicines twice a day every day without fail will give you even more.”

Some patients are already showing up with allergy symptoms in Dolen’s clinic, and more typically follow in March as tree pollen season heats up and grass pollen begins. Preparing now can help ease symptoms before they get worse, allergy doctors said.

Right now, the culprit would be early tree pollen that starts the last week in January and builds in February and March, Dolen said. It has little to do with the temperature, he said.

“It is the lengthening of the days that signals the trees to start pollinating, not the weather conditions,” Dolen said.

Even heavy ice won’t throw off that schedule, he said.

“The ice can damage trees,” Dolen said. “But it won’t do enough damage to attenuate the tree pollen season, I don’t think.”

Some patients are already starting to suffer and might be confused about what is causing their symptoms, said Dr. Vanitcha Pintavorn, of Augusta Family Allergy & Immunology.

“It is a little bit overlapping with cold and flu season,” she said. “We have to start reminding our patients to start using their medicines more and not just thinking it is a cold.”

A good way to tell the difference is duration, Pintavorn said. A cold should resolve in a week or so, while allergies will go on much longer, she said. Colds and other viral infections can have symptoms that are unusual with allergies, such as low-grade fever, body aches, nausea or other gastrointestinal issues, Pintavorn said.

Even if you are not suffering yet, if you know your symptoms will start soon, it is a good idea to start medications now and control symptoms early, Dolen advised. Some of the medications can take a little time to kick in, Pintavorn said.

“Right now is probably a good time to really start taking the medicine,” she said.

Dexter, a junior at Jefferson County High School who plays left guard on the football team, typically starts to have problems “if we get a lot of rain and if it is the season for the trees to start blooming,” said his mother, Jennifer. “That starts around about March every year. It lasts until about the end of the May.”

“That’s pretty much the big part of the tree pollen season here,” Dolen said.

But if Dexter sticks with taking his asthma medication when he should, he should do well, the doctor said.

“If you do that, you’ll feel better and you’ll knock the top off that lung function machine,” Dolen said.

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