Cold symptoms not unusual this time of year

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    By Melissa Gibbs

    Stuffy head, watery itchy eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose, itchy ears, sneezing and congestion.

    If you have had these symptoms during the past few weeks, you are not alone.

    Each year, millions of Americans suffer from hay fever and sinus symptoms caused by outdoor pollen and molds spores, according to the National Pollen Network.

    The NPN said that 23 to 30 percent of the U.S. population has a genetic predisposition for allergies.

    “People, who have this genetic predisposition, will experience allergy symptoms when inhaling airborne pollen and mold materials,” said Dr. Kagen, Allergy/Immunology Specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

    Kagen said allergy symptoms are the result of too much immunity.

    Amy Patterson, of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said that the allergy antibody made by the immune system is produced in response to exposure to substances referred to as allergens.

    “When histamine is released into your nose, you will sneeze and have a runny nose,” Patterson said. “Histamine in the lungs will cause spasm of the airways or wheezing, and if histamine is released into the skin, you may experience itching.”

    The Intermountain Allergy and Asthma Clinic said that 20 percent of Americans suffer from allergies, making it the sixth most prevalent condition in the country.

    Carole Maw, of the IAAC, explained that windborne pollen and mold spores are common causes of seasonal hay fever symptoms.

    Maw said the term hay fever was coined nearly 150 years ago to note symptoms that coincided with the annual hay harvest each year.

    She said the outdoor allergy season occurs when plant life attempts to reproduce itself by releasing billions and billions of pollen.

    “Wind-born pollens are not the pretty plants or the flowers that smell good,” Maw said. “That pollen is too heavy to be blown by the wind and relies on insects to transport it. The ugly and insignificant trees and plants that rely on the wind are the ones that cause problems for allergy sufferers.”

    Maw said it may not be a neighbor”s yard or tree that is a source of hay fever symptoms. Pollen can travel up to 200 miles in the air.

    According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, pollen and mold counts are described as being low, moderate, high or very high. These terms refer to the risk of experiencing allergy symptoms.

    Maw said the pollen count for elm this year has bee higher than normal.

    “If the pollen level is in the high range, you are more likely to have allergy symptoms,” Patterson said.

    Kagen said it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between cold and allergy symptoms.

    He said allergy symptoms typically include sneezing, runny nose, nasal and sinus congestion, sinus headache, fatigue and itching of the eyes.

    Cold symptoms are due to virus infections and produce symptoms of runny nose, sinus congestion and headache and may also be associated with occasional fever, chills and muscle aches.

    “Allergy does not produce fever and colds do not produce itching,” Kagen said. “The normal cold lasts six days. This means that if your symptoms of runny nose, sneezing and sinus congestion last for more than seven days, you are more likely to have allergy as a cause for your symptoms.”

    At least 35.9 million people in the United States have seasonal hay fever, according to the AAAAI.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that over eight million visits to office based physicians each year are attributed to hay fever.

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