The unusually warm weather this spring is having an effect on Mother Nature, and that in turn is sending more people to doctors' offices with runny noses, sneezing and watery eyes.
"(Patients have) itchy, drippy, sneezy-type symptoms (and)red, itchy, watery eyes — and that's primarily from the tree pollen that's flying through the air," says Dr. Ken Paris, an allergy and immunology specialist in the pediatrics department at LSU Health Sciences Center who practices at Children's Hospital. "I would say that our office has probably gotten twice the usual number of calls."
Eddie Moore, 2, recently went to Children's Hospital to get allergy tests. His mother, Kenisha Guillard, noticed his symptoms earlier than usual this year. "His eyes get swollen, like he has pink eye," Guillard says. "His eyes are ... watery and itching. He's very irritable."
Paris says Moore is not alone, and that the increase in allergy symptoms has him especially concerned about asthmatics. "What we worry about is kids with asthma," Paris says. "Kids with asthma can have an increase in symptoms from exposure to these tree pollens. ... Those kids really need to be seen and have their asthma action plans tuned up."
Paris says allergy season reached its peak early this year because of the lack of freezes during the winter. Also, warmer temperatures came earlier, so oak, elm and pecan trees have had more time to send pollen out across the city.
"I'm seeing all sorts of children, from very young to teenagers and everybody in-between, primarily with nasal and eye symptoms," says Dr. Michael Wasserman, a pediatrician at Ochsner for Children.
Even people who don't have allergies may still experience health problems due to the pollen count: The sheer number of particles can cause throat irritation.
Doctors say the best things children and adults cam do are to avoid pollen, use over-the-counter or prescription medications to relieve symptoms, or get shots to desensitize the immune system to the allergens. They advise patients to treat the symptoms and continue with their normal routines.
"Allergies aren't contagious, so your child can and should be in school," Wasserman says. "Your child can and should be able to participate in all sorts of sports. We want your child outside and playing and doing all the normal things."
Look for Meg Farris' Medical Watch reports weeknights on WWL-TV Channel 4 and any time on wwltv.com.