Spring Allergies In Full Bloom

Seasonal allergies cause misery for almost a-third of Americans. Many are now suffering once again, with the spring allergy season in full swing.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay offers an overview to co-anchor Hannah Storm.

Senay says such allergies are also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, and are caused when the immune system overreacts to irritants in the environment. During the spring, the culprits are plant tree pollen and mold spores.

Some of the usual suspects when it comes to tree pollen are cedar, elm, maple, birch and oak trees.

Pollen is released into the air as trees bud and bloom. Normally, the pollen arrives in stages, as different trees bloom at different times. Spring mold spores present bigger problems when high humidity and excess moisture from a particularly wet winter provide an ideal breeding ground for mold. When the summer months arrive, it's mainly grass causing allergy problems. In the fall, weeds are usually the biggest irritants.

Allergy symptoms typically begin in early childhood, and often peak between the ages of twenty and forty. The risk of allergic reaction depends on a variety of factors, including the type and intensity of allergen exposure, and genetic factors. Surveys have shown that only half of sufferers considered their allergies to be a serious medical condition, and many sufferers don't consult with a doctor about managing their allergies. In many cases, people confuse allergies with colds.

Allergic reactions range from simple sneezing to more serious and potentially life-threatening problems, such as asthma. The most common symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, wheezing, sore throat, nasal congestion, and coughing. Skin irritations and breathing problems can also develop.

Although many of these symptoms are relatively mild, over time they can cause fatigue, insomnia and problems with concentration and work performance. They can also increase the risk of ear infections and sinusitis.

It's useful to get tested to determine exactly what you're allergic to, and take steps to avoid contact with it as much as possible. Stay indoors as much as you can, keep your windows closed, wash your bedding regularly, and wash your hair and shower before going to bed. It's a good idea, in general, to keep your house as clean as possible.

There are allergy drugs available, both over-the-counter and by prescription, including nasal steroids, antihistamines and decongestants. Talk to your doctor to find the best treatment.

Antihistamines can be very helpful for itchy eyes and runny nose, but they may not relieve nasal congestion. Some can also cause drowsiness.