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Are Seasonal Allergies Really the Cause of Your Springtime Sniffles?

With springlike weather and a spike in the temperature pushing its way across the United States, conditions are priming for a ramp up of seasonal spring allergies.

With as many as one in three adults suffering from springtime pollen allergies, people find themselves reaching for the antihistamines to contain their symptoms this time of year. However, Dr. Inderpal Randhawa, allergist and pulmonologist with the UCLA school of medicine, told that not all people who respond well to antihistamines in the spring actually have allergies. In fact, a recent study showed that 60 percent of people who had allergy skin tests administered after responding positively to antihistamines tested negative for any pollen allergies.

"Antihistamines have a drying agent which are also found in cold medicines," Randhawa explained.

According to Randhawa, because of the prevalence of springtime allergies, if a person is congested and is then affected by an irritant such as dust or smog after being outside in the spring, that person may then attribute their runny nose to a seasonal allergy and reach for an over-the-counter antihistamine. The drying agent in the medication treats their symptoms; that person may then automatically assume there is an allergy at play.

"A response to antihistamines does not mean allergies in and of itself," Randhawa said.

People who are more prone to infections or who suffer from chronic congestion issues such as vasomotor rhinitis are among those who may be more likely to falsely attribute symptoms to a seasonal allergy.

Not all parts of the country have a typical allergy season, either, Randhawa said.

Classic allergy seasons are most prevalent from the Southeast to the Northeast, where the climates allow for sudden bursts of tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the summer and weed pollen in the fall. Some parts of the country to the west may also have times of bursting allergies, such as areas near dense tree populations in Texas or where grass numbers are high in the northern Plains. However, most other areas will not have a traditional allergy season.

This is especially true for tropical or subtropical climates, such as Florida, which essentially have an "allergy season" that spans the length of the year.

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Randhawa explained that allergies for these types of regions are less seasonal and don't have easy to follow start and stop dates. Whereas in the North, there will be a break between the outbreak of tree pollen, before the outbreak of grass pollen, subtropical climates have much more of an overlap between the pollen outbreaks, essentially leading to an "allergy season" that lasts from January to November.

To be sure whether or not a person actually suffers from seasonal allergies and not another condition that happens to respond to antihistamines, Randhawa recommends getting an allergy test. A confirmed allergy will be easier for doctors to help treat, and may open patients up to treatment opportunities that are only available with a prescription, including a newly FDA-approved pill that helps contain allergy symptoms.

Randhawa said that this pill contains actual pollen components to help the body combat symptoms, rather than being an all-out cure for seasonal allergies. He added that the timing can be complicated, as it is meant to be taken for the duration of an allergy season. For locations that have less-defined allergy seasons, this can complicate the timelines.

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