Those who have been coughing, sneezing or suffering from red, itchy eyes could blame it on an early spring allergy season – but the recent long and snowy winter could also be to blame.
The extremely wet winter is predicted to bring on an earlier and more severe allergy season, but lurking in those still visible piles of snow could be mold fungus. The mold spores can’t spread if the snow melts quickly and it warms up quickly, but that has not been the case.
Millions of people suffer from allergies caused by everyday exposures to irritants such as dust mites, mold and tree pollens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC estimates that 11.1 million people visited their physicians’ offices with a primary diagnosis of allergic rhinitis in 2010.
Allergic rhinitis is a group of symptoms affecting the nose that occur when a person breathes in an irritant such as dust, mold, animal dander or pollen. It often causes a runny nose, watery eyes, or an itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat or skin.
Most of what we see in seasonal allergies is tree pollen, but where there’s pollen, there’s also mold, said Dr. Vaughn Maples of the Allergy & Asthma Center, which has locations in Fort Wayne, Bluffton, Auburn and Warsaw.
The long, harsh winter was also to blame for allergies of a different nature.
We saw a fair number of people who couldn’t get out and were stuck inside their homes with animals for extended periods, which caused allergy symptoms, Maples said.
People with seasonal allergies will start getting the symptoms one to three days after being exposed to pollen, grass or other irritants, he said.
Although the symptoms can mimic a cold, the difference is that a cold usually subsides within six to eight days, Maples said, while allergy symptoms will last throughout the season.
And, if there is a fever, it’s not allergies, Maples said.
While many children between ages 4 and 16 develop allergies, anyone can suddenly develop an allergy, Maples said.
All people are exposed to trees, grasses and pollen, and we still don’t know why some develop allergies and others don’t, he said. But it is always possible to become newly sensitized – at any age.
While some over-the-counter medications can provide relief, that usually lasts for only a few days, Maples said.
That’s why they’ve developed these second generation antihistamines that last 18 to 24 hours, such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, he said.
If left untreated, symptoms can develop into coughing, sore throat, nasal congestion or even asthma. Allergic disease can interfere with sleep or cause ear or recurrent sinus problems, Maples said.
In children, untreated allergies can change the shape of their palate or nose over a period of years, he said.
If the symptoms are severe enough, a doctor may prescribe nasal corticosteroid or antihistamine sprays or decongestants or recommend allergy testing or shots, sometimes called immunotherapy.
When people go through two seasons with horrible allergy symptoms and medications just don’t seem to be working, we start talking about allergy shots, Maples said. Shots are specific to what the patient is allergic to, he said.
As far as snow mold, Maples said mold is mold.
All you need is a carbon source and water and it grows, he said. Just a small amount of moisture will produce mold, but it must be airborne to be active.
The easiest way to eliminate the possibility of snow mold is to get rid of the snow, said Allison Lewis, a lawn applicator at Bruce Ewing Landscaping in Fort Wayne.
We see snow mold in extreme and prolonged snow coverage, Lewis said, but the mold goes away once the snow is removed or melts away.
Lewis didn’t know of any cases of snow mold affecting humans, and while it is known to damage existing grass, the lawn will soon grow back, she said.
Not the best news for those with grass allergies.