It’s the season of congestion.
It’s the season of congestion.
Dr. Matthew Bolinger, who practices at Onslow Ear, Nose and Throat, said during fall, area residents get a lot of nasal congestion with drainage, which they sometimes mistake for sinus infections.
Allergies and infections, he said, are easily confused because the symptoms are almost identical: congestion, watery eyes and facial pressure. However, he explained, allergies are “basically an immune response to things that normally wouldn’t be harmful … that your body is treating as harmful and is mounting an immune response to.”
Sinus infections will bring longer lasting pain, tender lymph-nodes and fevers. With allergies, he said, “you’ll be just as miserable, but it’s not an infection.”
You can thank the weeds.
“The weeds are a big one, so as the weeds come into bloom, certain molds will flare up; but it’s really the weeds and the trees this time of year,” Bolinger said, adding that rag weeds are a common irritant, locally.
Even if you think you may be having allergy problems, there’s not necessarily a need to rush to the doctor, Bolinger said. He does encourage those with respiratory or upper immune problems to take allergy problems more seriously and make doctor appointments sooner.
“People always ask … ‘Should I be allergy tested?’ My feeling … is to try over-the-counter stuff first,” he said.
Bolinger said many over-the-counter products for allergies, such as antihistamines, are “very effective.” He also suggests nasal saline sprays or rinses and Neti pots.
Amanda Whitley, pharmacist at Johnson Drug in Jacksonville, said they’re seeing customers daily looking for over-the-counter relief, an annual trend around the beginning of spring and fall.
“If it's just allergies — the running nose, sore throat sort of stuff — I recommend generic Claritin or the generic Zyrtec because they have generics. They are a little more cost-effective. And Allegra is also an option, but it's only a brand name right now,” Whitley said.
For congestion, Whitley suggests either Sudafed PE or the Sudafed that an ID is required for.
“For nasal decongestion that's good as long as they don't have high blood pressure,” she said.
Bolinger explained that people should think of the nose as a filter that serves to warm and humidify the air inhaled and collect the “gunk” so it doesn’t go into the lungs.
“Just like any other air filter, if you can take the time to clear it out … you can lessen the effects of allergies without all the medications,” Bolinger said.
He also said that soothing eye drops help with “getting moisture in your eyes and rinsing that stuff out.”
If the over-the-counter stuff doesn’t work, however, it may be time to make a doctor’s appointment.
“It really comes down to how bothered are you by your allergy symptoms,” he said.
Whitley agrees that there comes a point where she suggests clients see a doctor.
“If it has been a problem going on two weeks, if they've been trying those products and aren't seeing any relief, or if they start feeling … pain then you start worrying about a sinus infection because bacteria's always lurking around,” Whitley said, explaining that a fever is also an over-the-counter deal breaker. “If a fever becomes involved, it's generally not allergies anymore. So that's another time when it's probably best to go to the doctor.”
Bolinger said that allergy testing doesn’t always change a doctor’s initial suggestion of trying over-the-counter allergy medications, but test results may allow a person being plagued by allergies to change things around the house that would “make a significant difference.”
Bolinger said that allergies are a persistent problem in Eastern North Carolina due to mold, dust mites and various insects that are present in the area year-round.
In order to prevent allergy symptoms, Bolinger suggests regularly cleaning the nose to ensure allergens don’t build up and prolong symptoms and, when possible, checking out websites like weather.com or pollen.com that will provide information about allergens that day.
“Sometimes that helps people out a lot because if you know you have allergies to these things … you can kind of preemptively treat yourself,” he said.
Amanda Hickey is the government reporter at The Daily News. She can be reached at email@example.com.