March 2019

Common Springtime Illnesses

When spring arrives, so do allergies. In fact, the only things that “go around” this time of year are allergies and allergy-related problems. Here is a guide to understanding springtime allergic conditions, how to recognize them, how to treat them with over-the-counter medicines, how to prevent them, and when to seek the advice of your doctor.

The reason for the spike in allergy flare-ups in spring is because all the trees and plants are blooming, and pollen from the flowers get carried by the wind and end up in our nose, eyes, and lungs. Immune cells in these body tissues react to the pollen and release histamine, a chemical that causes fluids to leak out of our bloodstream and into the tissues. In the nose, this results in swelling and mucus production. In the eyes, this causes redness and tearing. In the lungs, this triggers swelling, wheezing, and mucus production. Histamine is also responsible for the itching that occurs in the eyes, nose, and throat.

Nasal Allergies

This is the most common manifestation of allergies. Typical symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion

  • Clear runny nose

  • Itchy nose

  • Itchy throat and post-nasal drip

  • Crease across the top of the nose from constant wiping

  • Excessive sneezing

  • Dark circles under eyes

  • Persistent cough, often rattling

How do you treat allergies?

Step 1: No treatment at all.

If your symptoms are mild and do not seem to interfere with his life very much, then you really do not need to give any medication at all.


Step 2: Nasal saline spray.


If the symptoms are mildly troubling, simply squirt this into your nose several times a day to flush out the allergens, and blow the nose periodically.

Step 3: Non-prescription nasal decongestant and/or antihistamine medications.

If the symptoms bother you enough and are interfering with daily life, and the saline spray doesn’t seem to be enough, then you can try the following medications:

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines – these work by blocking the action of histamine as I mentioned earlier. They treat the itchy, sneezy, runny nose, itchy watery eyes, and itchy throat. They can also help with nasal congestion. Antihistamines are available in liquid, chewables, and pills. They are generally safe for children 6 months and older. They last 6 – 12 hours.

  • Decongestants – drug name is pseudoephedrine. While these drugs do nothing to fight the histamine effects of allergies, they can improve nasal congestion associated with allergies. They are especially helpful in conjunction with an antihistamine when the major allergy symptom is nasal congestion. Decongestants come as a separate medication or in combination with an antihistamine. Over-the-counter decongestants are virtually the same as prescription ones. Side effects are rare but include jitteriness and hyperactivity.

  • Combination antihistamine/decongestants – the above over-the-counter antihistamines also come combined with a decongestant.

  • Cromolyn nasal spray – this acts as an antihistamine directly in the nose. Side effects are transient stinging and sneezing. It is over-the-counter.

Because nasal sprays usually take one or two weeks to start working, they shouldn’t be used only one day here and there as this isn’t effective.

  • Decongestant nasal spray – this isn’t actually an allergy spray. It is very effective at temporarily relieving severe nasal congestion, but does not prevent allergy symptoms. Warning – do not use more than 3 days at a time or your nose may become dependent on it to stay clear.

Step 4: Prescription medications.

  • Prescription antihistamines – We suggest you try over-the-counter medications first, then talk to your doctor about these prescription medicines if needed. Side effects – include headache, dry mouth, drowsiness, and upset stomach. A few children can act hyperactive from these medications. In general, the new prescription medications (also known as “non-sedating” antihistamines) seem to have fewer side effects than the over-the-counter ones, but this varies from person to person. If drowsiness is the only side effect, try taking it only before bed. Often the drowsy effect wears off by morning, but the antihistamine action can last 24 hours.

  • Antihistamine nasal spray – It works well and has the benefit of acting directly in the nose, compared to oral antihistamines. It can be used safely for many months at a time with very few side effects. Remember, nasal sprays usually take one or two weeks to start working, they shouldn’t be used only one day here and there as this isn’t effective.

  • Steroid nasal sprays – This steroid also stays in the nasal lining. Very little of it is absorbed into the body..

Allergic Conjunctivitis - (red eyes)

Realize that at this time of year, most cases of “pink eye” are actually due to allergies, not infections, and are therefore not contagious.

How do I tell if it’s allergies or infection?

  • Bacteria – when the eyes are red with yellow or green drainage oozing or crusting in the eye throughout the day and night, then bacteria are usually the culprit. The eyelids may also be swollen. Affects one or both eyes.

  • Virus – when the eyes are very red, but there is no drainage or only a small amount of drainage or crusting upon waking up, then it is probably viral conjunctivitis. Usually affects both eyes.

  • Allergy – allergic conjunctivitis is usually seasonal, mostly in the spring. The eyes are usually red with increased tears, perhaps a small amount of white drainage, and unusually itchy. Usually affects both eyes.

  • Foreign body – a piece of sand or dirt stuck under the eyelid can cause redness, tearing, pain and drainage. Usually affects one eye.

How do I treat allergic conjunctivitis?

  • Cool compress – hold a cool, wet washcloth against the eye and gently wipe away any drainage.

  • Saline eye drops – or artificial tears can sooth the eye, whatever the cause. These can also be used to flush out any pollen that accumulates in the eye.

  • Allergy eye drops – there are several prescription drops that can help alleviate eye allergies. There is also an over-the-counter antihistamine eye drop that can help.


Do I need to see the doctor about this?

If the symptoms are mild and controlled with the above treatments, then you may not need to see your doctor. If the symptoms are severe, or not improving with these treatments, then see your doctor.

Sinus Infections

Although winter is usually considered more of a sinus infection season, many people with nasal allergies experience worsened sinus symptoms during the spring. Some may have a difficult time distinguishing an allergy flare-up from a true sinus infection. 

Symptoms of a sinus infection:

  • Sinus infection – this occurs when the bacteria in the nose build up enough to take over and cause an infection. It usually takes around 10 days of sinus allergy symptoms in order for bacteria to build up enough for a sinus infection to occur.

    Sinus infections rarely just occur out of the blue.

    • Green nasal discharge for more than 10 days. Any green drainage before this may just due to the cold virus or allergies.

    • Sinus headaches – pain or severe pressure behind and around the eyes, forehead, and upper cheeks can be a sign of sinus infection. Remember, it is normal to have some headache at the beginning of a cold or with allergies, or during the worst part of a cold.

    • Tooth pain – pain in the upper teeth or gums can indicate a sinus infection since the sinuses are right above this area.

    • Green discharge from the eyes – eye drainage accompanied with all these other symptoms can mean sinus infection.

    • Cough – the thick mucus produced during a sinus infection will drip down into the upper chest, thus causing a cough. A cough will almost always be present during a sinus infection. If your child does not have a cough, then it is less likely to be a sinus infection.

    • Fever – infants and young children will usually have a fever during a sinus infection. Children older than 6 and adults may not have a fever. Remember, fever can be normal for up to five days during a cold.

    • Fatigue – older children and adults will usually feel very worn out during a sinus infection. This fatigue can be part of a normal cold as well, but if it persists or is extreme, it could be the sinuses.

  • Signs of a sinus infection include:

  • Nasal allergies – symptoms include nasal congestion, clear runny nose, mild sinus headache, itchy nose, mild cough, and sneezing. In simple allergies, there is no fever and no severe junky cough. If there is fatigue, it is usually mild. If there is green nasal drainage, it is usually intermittent and mild.

Allergic Asthma

While winter is when asthma sufferers may experience asthma attacks during colds or flus, those whose asthma has more of an allergic trigger may suffer flare-ups during the spring allergy season.


If you begin to experience more frequent chest tightness, wheezing, nighttime coughing or decreased exercise tolerance during these months, you should talk to your doctor about using a preventative inhaler and/or allergy medication to make this season easier. Remember, such medications can be stopped, with your doctor’s advice, come summertime if you are doing well.

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