It's been a long, cold winter for many of us, and everyone is looking forward to fun outdoor activities. But for more than 45 million Americans with seasonal allergies – many of them workers – spring brings runny and congested noses, inflamed sinuses, relentless sneezing and other symptoms associated with springtime allergies.
For many outdoor workers, the issues are compounded.
"Even though it seems like you can get all the answers at the drugstore, you really can't manage allergies alone, you need to work with a doctor," said Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY and an ambassador for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
"Allergy sufferers who wish to avoid allergy misery need to know their allergic triggers by visiting an allergist and having the proper testing done," he continued. "This will enable patients to have a specific, proactive treatment plan in place before symptoms hit."
AAFA recently released its annual Spring Allergy Capitals report, which ranks the 100 most challenging places to live with spring allergies in the United States. Sorry, Jackson, Miss. This year's report named Jackson as the No. 1 spring allergy capital, based on higher-than-average pollen and higher-than-average medication usage. The other top 10 cities include, starting with No. 2: Louisville, Ky; No. 3 Oklahoma City, Okla.; No. 4 Memphis; No. 5 Knoxville, Tenn.; No. 6 McAllen, Tex.; No. 7 Wichita, Kansas; No. 8 Dayton, Ohio; No. 9 Providence, R.I.; and No. 10 Richmond, Va.
"The Allergy Capitals can help to inform a pollen sufferer about geographical areas that may provoke and worsen their seasonal symptoms, which impacts their quality of life," said Bassett. "Immediate personalized treatments can include prescription medications such as new combination therapies, mono-therapies and long-term treatments that may help some patients."
It's important that allergy sufferers take heed; a new study by AAFA revealed that spring is when most allergy patients experience their worst seasonal allergy symptoms, and many patients report that they are not fully satisfied with the over-the-counter (OTC) options they find on drug store shelves. As a result, experts say, people suffering from allergies can take too much of the wrong kinds of medication.
AAFA recently conducted the Symptom Management and Allergic Rhinitis Treatment (SMART) Survey, an assessment of seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) patients to better understand their awareness, knowledge, perceptions and preferences about allergy prevention, management and treatment. The survey gauged both adults with SAR and caregivers of children with SAR. Results revealed that allergy symptoms are far worse in the spring than any other season with pollen exacerbating patients' conditions.
Nearly 95 percent of seasonal allergy patients surveyed experienced symptoms in the spring. Congestion (24 percent) and headache/sinus pain (23 percent) topped the list of the most bothersome physical allergy symptoms. But patients reported psychological symptoms too, with more than half of respondents saying allergies made them irritable (57 precent) and frustrated (50 percent).
More than half of the patients surveyed reported having daily symptoms while experiencing seasonal allergies.
Talisa White, external affairs manager for AAFA, suggested that employers remind workers that allergy season is coming. She suggested employers, "Ask your employees: ‘Have you talked to your doctor about your seasonal allergies?'"
Workers suffering from severe allergy symptoms often have to take sick days or worse, suffer from "presenteeism." In other words, they are so overloaded with symptoms and allergy medicine that they are sluggish and distracted. White suggested that anyone suffering from allergies not try to self-medicate with over-the-counter treatments until they've seen a doctor.
"A lot of people try to self-medicate and they'll keep trying products until they find something that works. It's a very good possibility that they will take more medication than they need or more than they should," said White. Doctors can recommend medications that are non-drowsy and don't create safety risks in the workplace.
The SMART study also showed that adult patients are likely to seek treatment in the form of over-the-counter medications. However, the survey found that satisfaction was higher for patients using prescription remedies over drugstore options.
"I have found a tremendous benefit for allergy sufferers to have an allergist-directed evaluation to help pinpoint the exact triggers responsible for all of those pesky allergy symptoms," said Bassett. "With this first step, one can individualize cost effective steps to reduce and hopefully prevent seasonal symptoms."
White said the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America offers information packets for employer health fairs that discuss symptoms and treatment options for asthma and allergies.