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Itchy eyes signal start of allergy season

March 28, 2019

Dr. Deanne Walsh hasn’t seen many spring allergy sufferers come through her doors yet, but she knows they’re coming.

“It’s going to go from nothing to walk-in clinics getting their doors beaten down,” said Walsh, a doctor of nursing practice and a primary care provider in internal medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.

And with warm weather expected over the weekend, Walsh said, the flood of allergy sufferers into doctors’ offices could start sooner rather than later. In fact, some doctors in the state have already seen a steady stream of patients with itchy eyes, sneezing, runny or stuffy noses and other symptoms.

“We’re starting to see people with typical allergy symptoms,” said Dr. Paul Lindner, director of allergy and immunology at Stamford Health. “The biggest thing we’ve seen so far are the itchy eyes.”

Walsh said it’s not surprising that spring allergy season has already come to Stamford. She said the New York area usually gets hit first, then allergy season typically snakes its way up through Connecticut from there.

“It will be here soon,” she said.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million Americans have experienced various types of allergies each year. An allergic reaction happens when the body’s immune system reacts to what should be a harmless substance, such as a type of food or the fur of a certain animal. In the case of seasonal allergies, the immune system reacts to pollen, the fertilizing element of flowering plants.

Seasonal allergies can cause allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as “hay fever.” The Foundation states that roughly six million children and 20 million adults suffer from allergic rhinitis.

Walsh said the main allergen at play changes as spring progresses and turns into summer. At this point, tree pollen is the main culprit. Then in April or May, grass pollen is the top allergen, followed by weeds as summer arrives.

Both Lindner and Walsh said 2019 could be a particularly bad year for spring allergies, given the dramatic change in weather conditions.

“We’re going straight from winter to spring,” Walsh said.

Lindner echoes that statement, and said that climate change could be a factor in worsening allergy seasons.

“When you get warmer temperatures, it’s going to increase pollen growth,” he said.

He’s not alone in thinking that. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has a statement on its web site proclaiming that research has shown a link between rising temperatures and allergies.

“Climate change is associated with rising temperatures, changes in worldwide weather patterns and increasing airborne pollen levels and duration,” the statement reads. “These changes have been observed to impact health, including that of allergic individuals.”

Whatever causes severe allergy seasons, allergy sufferers will soon be seeking relief from their symptoms. Walsh said even if people aren’t feeling the effects of hay fever yet, it’s not too early to take action.

“The best way to approach allergy season is don’t wait for your allergies to kick in to start your medication,” she said.

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