Danville Express

Column - March 23, 2007

Diablo Views: Achoo! Welcome, spring

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Is it spring yet? Yes, I know spring began Wednesday, April 21. I mean: Is it allergy season yet?

If you don't suffer from spring allergies, you won't appreciate my concern. If pollens do attack you every spring, as they do me, you will understand this torture that renders one a helpless blob of itching eyes, ears and throat, swollen sinuses and unsightly sneezes.

In my joy at our gorgeous weather lately, I almost forgot about spring allergies. But then I noticed a frequent urge to blink. A tickle in my nose and throat.

Spring allergy season has already started for people with tree pollen allergy, said Dr. Nancy Mozelsio, an allergist I was talking to last week. She's one of 10 physicians with the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group of the Bay Area, which has offices in San Ramon, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Brentwood and Berkeley. But for the majority of sufferers, the season will peak in about a month, she said. Those rolling hills that look so lovely surrounding our homes are working overtime right now to produce pollen for us.

"Grass pollen, that's a biggie here in the East Bay," she said. "In the San Ramon Valley basin we have a valley situation with lots of wind that dumps the pollen right here."

Some sufferers opt for a steroid shot, she said, but that just cures the symptoms. "It makes you feel better for that time, but it doesn't do anything for your immune system," she said. Others take the route of immunotherapy, receiving shots for several years to build up a resistance to pollens. Or there are prescription nasal sprays or over-the-counter medicines.

Mozelsio highly recommended skin testing to find out exactly what one's allergies are. I went through this a few years ago - dozens of pinpricks containing different substances. That's how I know that my problems are spring and fall grasses.

Thank goodness I'm not allergic to animals. I've noticed that petting my cat Bob in the springtime starts me sneezing, and Mozelsio said that's because he picks up pollen from outside and brings it in. She cautioned not to let him into the bedroom during this time. Not to worry. Since he's one of those it's-time-to-get-up-at-3-in-the-morning types, he spends his nights in the garage where he sleeps on top of the cars. Or in them if we neglect to roll up the windows.

Mozelsio said people new to the area aren't bothered by our abundance of pollen. "That's the honeymoon period," she explained. "Then the body starts to recognize new allergens, and after a couple of years they start to feel the effects."

"That's why most young children don't have allergies," she added.

She said it can be hard to tell the difference between colds and allergies, but colds are not usually accompanied by the itching that comes with allergies. And if you have a fever, it is probably a cold.

When the pollen comes out, it's best for allergy sufferers to stay indoors, she said, especially when it is windy. If they must go outside, they should wear sunglasses to keep pollen from blowing in their eyes. And after being outdoors they should change their clothing and shower off the pollen, and keep their windows closed. Also, she emphasized, it's best to start allergy medications before the allergies take hold.

She also noted that many times people are allergic to other things besides pollen, such as dust mites, which will exacerbate their condition. In that case, it's important to vacuum carefully, wash bedding weekly in hot water, and encase mattresses, pillows and box springs in special covers.

Mozelsio said she chose this branch of medicine because she herself suffers from asthma and allergies. She lives in Alamo with her son Eric, who goes to Stone Valley Middle School, and Yves, her husband. Yves does not suffer from allergies, luckily, because he is a wedding photographer and it would be a shame if he couldn't shoot weddings outdoors in the springtime.

I asked what kind of allergies people have in Berkeley, since their pollen is washed away by the sea air and cool Bay breezes. It turns out they have mold allergies, especially in the fall and winter.

That sounds like an unpleasant experience as the winter approaches. I'll take my allergies with the blue skies and sunshine. And please pass the nasal spray.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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