As everyone on Long Island strives to forget this past winter, there are new weather-related hurdles to face. In fact, everything's coming up sniffles.
"I'm seeing people starting to sneeze now, coughing and having trouble breathing and having itchy eyes," says Dr. Marianne Frieri, chief of allergy and immunology at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.
Normally, Frieri says, she sees these symptoms in March, as pollens from trees like maple, oak and birch start to torture the area's allergy-prone. But the longer-than-normal winter this year postponed things by a few weeks, and the pollens are just now starting to bother people, she says.
A delayed pollen season might not be good news, however. In fact, Dr. Louis Guida Jr., head of the Allergy/Asthma Center at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, thinks things are bound to get much worse.
"Due to a record-high snowfall and significant moisture, trees, weeds, plants and grasses will eventually produce large amounts of pollen, giving the allergy sufferer problems with itchy, watery eyes, runny, stuffy noses and increased asthma and respiratory symptoms," Guida says.
"Do not be fooled if the allergy season is delayed. Due to significantly low temperatures, tree pollens may take a bit longer to pollinate, but when they do, allergy sufferers will be affected."
After tree pollens, he says, "typically grasses release their pollen in the late spring and very early summer months, and ragweed releases pollen in the late summer and early fall."
Guida suspects pollens have been on the rise in recent years, thanks to earlier spring seasons, later- ending fall seasons and large amounts of rain and snow through storms such as blizzards and superstorm Sandy.
INDOOR ALLERGENS, TOO At the same time, Guida says, allergy sufferers remain vulnerable to indoor allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, mold spores and cockroaches.
Allergies remain common across the country. For instance, about 8 percent of adults and 9 percent of children -- more than 24 million people -- suffer from hay fever, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 8 million kids have respiratory allergies, 4 million have food allergies and 9 million have skin allergies, the agency says.
TIME FOR MEDICATION? What to do? Guida recommends that people with allergies start taking their allergy medications now. In some cases, he says, this may help prevent the immune system from going into overdrive as people are exposed to allergens.
In addition, Frieri says, keep pets out of the bedroom and off upholstered furniture, which harbors allergens. Frequent washing can help, too. But keep in mind that pets can still trigger allergies, even if they're supposedly a "hypoallergenic" breed of dog or cat, she says.
She also advises allergic Long Islanders to avoid the outside when pollens are highest and seek testing and treatment.
One long-standing treatment, called allergy immunotherapy, has traditionally involved getting allergy shots in an attempt to desensitize the body to allergens. That could change, though, as these kinds of medications will soon be available to take orally rather than requiring an injection, Guida says.
And, what not to do? Guida warned that people should be very careful when taking decongestant medications because they can have serious side effects, including spikes in blood pressure and prostate hypertrophy, which makes it hard for men to urinate.