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Spring is here – and if you are one of the predicted One in four adults For seasonal allergy sufferers in the United States, your sneezing and scratching may have already started.

As climate change affects temperature and plant growth, you may need to take precautions earlier than ever. It can be difficult to distinguish allergy symptoms from the flu, but experts point to a few symptoms.

Allergy seasons in spring start 20 days earlier, according to the analysis Pollen count data From 1990 to 2018 from 60 sites across North America.

William Andregue, an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah and an author of the study, said this change could have significant health consequences. Other studies have shown that it is associated with the very early onset of spring Allergic rhinitis, Also known as hay fever. When people get sick or end up in the hospital with uncontrollable allergy symptoms, he says, “it’s because they weren’t expecting it and didn’t have medicine on hand.”

The researchers found that pollen levels have risen about 20 percent nationally since 1990, with the largest increases in Texas and the Midwest. Warmer temperatures, higher levels of carbon dioxide and increased rainfall contribute to larger plant growth and longer pollen production, Dr. Andregue said.

When Dr. Gaylen Marshall, chairman of the department of allergy and immunology at Mississippi Medical Center, began practicing 40 years ago, allergy seasons were limited to about eight weeks each. Tree pollen blooms in spring, grass pollen blooms in spring and summer, and ragweed pollen blooms in late summer and early fall.

At that point, people “can get at least some relief” between those cycles, says Dr. Marshall, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Now, these seasons are going to be one long season.”

Many people think that people with a stuffy or runny nose have a cold. Although allergy and cold symptoms can be similar, allergies often cause itchy eyes, nose, throat, mouth or ears, says Dr. Rita Kachuru, chief of clinical allergy and immunology at UCLA Health. With allergies, the immune system mistakes the trigger for a harmful substance, such as pollen. When repeatedly exposed to that trigger, Dr. Kachuru says, immune cells release chemicals, including histamine, that cause itching and inflammation.

In addition, patients often experience congestion and post-nasal drip or mucus dripping from the back of the throat. Some people may experience coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

With a viral infection, on the other hand, you may have muscle weakness, joint pain or fever.

If your symptoms appear at a certain time of the year and last more than a week or two, they are most likely caused by allergies. A personal or family history of allergies, eczema or asthma can also be an important clue, doctors said.

Most people first experience symptoms in childhood or adolescence. But many experts say that it is not normal for a person to have seasonal allergies for the first time as an adult.

Moving to another part of the country and being exposed to different allergens can trigger a reaction, says Dr Kacheru.

New allergy symptoms in adulthood can also “really be an inevitable consequence of increased pollen,” says New Jersey-based allergist Dr. Netta Ogden.

Increased winds associated with climate change could further spread pollen and expose people to new species, said Harvard research scientist Dr. Mary Johnson.

Studies have also shown. Hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, can affect how allergic diseases develop.

Boys often have food allergies or eczema in infancy and seasonal allergies or asthma in childhood, but these conditions disappear during puberty, says Dr Kachuru. But symptoms may return in their 30s and 40s.

For some women, major hormonal changes, including those that occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause, and during birth control can affect the onset and severity of allergy symptoms, says Dr. Kakru.

The first step is to reduce exposure. Close your windows to prevent pollen from blowing into your home.

“The key is to prevent outdoor allergens from indoor allergens,” says Dr. William Reisacher, MD, professor of otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Allergy.

To help you do this, take off your clothes when you get home and store them outside your bedroom. Then take a shower to wash off the pollen from your skin. Doctors recommend rinsing your nose with saline to flush the pollen out of your nose. (Be sure to use if you make your own Boiled, distilled or filtered water.)

Over-the-counter medications fall into two main categories: antihistamines and steroids. Both work on the inflammatory response of your immune system. Antihistamines such as nasal drops, eye drops, and oral pills, including loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal), and fexofenadine (Allegra).

Steroids are available as nasal sprays, including fluticasone (Flonase), budesonide (Benacort), triamcinolone (Nasacort), and mometasone (Nasonex).

If you’re experiencing symptoms for the first time and aren’t sure how bad they are or how long they’ll last, try an antihistamine to see if Dr. Kachuru can help.

If symptoms persist, or if you find that you are hit hard by allergy symptoms every spring, doctors recommend nasal sprays. Unlike antihistamines, which should only be used as needed, these steroids work best if you start using them a week or two before symptoms start.

Doctors caution against using products containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, for more than a day or two, as they can increase heart rate and blood pressure. In the year Task Force of Physicians to Issue Allergy Treatment Guidelines in 2020 Recommended Using Benadryl to treat allergic rhinitis; Doctors said that it can cause sedation and confusion.

If avoiding environmental triggers and taking medication doesn’t work for you, allergy shots or tablets that build up your tolerance to allergens may help.

“It’s the only option that can make the body allergic,” says Dr. Reisacher.