Despite being cold and snowy in February, that’s when some trees and shrubs were pollinating. This spring, more plants are entering their growing and blooming phases and causing all kinds of sneezing and wheezing for allergy sufferers.

“There is no cure for allergies,” said Jeremy Katcher, MD, a Mercy Clinic allergist and immunologist, “but with the right treatment, people with seasonal allergies can go outside and enjoy everything that’s great about this weather and the outdoors.”

These days, more people seem to be suffering from allergies. That’s because mild winters can lead to a longer pollen season. Also, annual pollen counts have slowly risen during the past few decades and are expected to double by the year 2040.

Allergies happen because the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies an allergen as harmful, and then reacts by producing substances, such as histamine, into your bloodstream to fight the allergen. These substances cause the irritating symptoms of allergies.

Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include itchy throat, itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose. People with asthma may experience increased coughing or wheezing. How people react depends on what they’re allergic to and how severe their allergies are.

“Allergies and asthma shouldn’t stop you from feeling good and being active all day, and they shouldn’t keep you awake at night,” Dr. Katcher said. “There are things you can do to relieve the symptoms, from lifestyle changes to medical treatments.”

Dr. Katcher recommends that people with seasonal allergies run the air conditioning, keep their windows closed at home, work and in the car, and that they change their home air filter frequently and shower before bed to wash pollens away. He also recommends using medications to ease symptoms to better tolerate outdoor activities.

“Over-the-counter medications work for a lot of people, but they don’t work for everyone,” said Dr. Katcher.

“If they don’t work for you, don’t give up. Talk to your doctor or see a specialist who can offer treatments with the most benefits and the least side effects.”

While there isn’t a cure for seasonal allergies, immunotherapy comes close.

“Immunotherapy is a preventive treatment for allergies that involves giving increasing doses of the allergen to the allergic person,” said Dr. Katcher. “Over time, the immune system becomes less sensitive to the allergen, resulting in significant symptom improvement. Immunotherapy also reduces the inflammation that characterizes rhinitis and asthma.”

Dr. Katcher is board certified in allergy and immunology and internal medicine. He’s a part of Mercy Clinic Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Washington. For more information, call 636-231-3790.