For 16 years, Evelyn Sanchez suffered from
. She took every over-the counter medication available.
"My purse was full of pills — Afrin, Tylenol, Sudafed, everything you could possible think of for allergies," said the 50-year-old Clermont resident.
Sanchez finally found relief in 2008 after a visit to a local allergist, who immediately put her on
injections and took her off all non-prescription medications.
Now, her husband, who is asthmatic, has been coughing,
and sniffling. And he's not alone. Area doctors say this spring may bring one of the worst allergy seasons ever.
"We're seeing people who don't normally have problems with allergies experiencing severe symptoms," said Orlando allergist Michael Anderson. "Medications aren't working for them, even prescription medication. This suggests that the load of pollen in the air is really high."
In fact, pollen counts over the last month in the Orlando area have been above average. According to Pollen.com, 26 of the 30 days ending March 26 saw pollen counts of 10 or higher on a scale of zero to 12. The same period last year averaged a rating of 9.
"Spring is typically the worst time for allergies," said Orlando allergist Dr. Jose Arias.
That's because it's the time of year when trees are in bloom — particularly oak, a native tree that causes the most eye irritation symptoms for allergy sufferers, Arias said.
Other allergy culprits include pine, bayberry, cedar and cypress trees.
When wind blows pollen from oak and other trees into the air, it enters through breathing passages and into the bloodstream. Histamines are then created, which is one of the body's defenses against infection. This triggers the onslaught of sneezing, watery eyes and other allergy symptoms.
Both allergy and pollen experts say the recent bout of near-record cold temperatures in Central Florida and throughout the state is to blame for the high pollen counts.
"It's been so cold for so long, as soon as there was any indication that spring was arriving, the trees just began to explode with blooms," said Anderson. More blooms result in more pollen. And since the blooms were delayed this year, "it's going to be bad for allergy sufferers for about six more weeks."
Robert Bowden, director of Harry P.
in Orlando, says the flowering trees are blooming much later than usual, and so are some flowers.
"We rarely get to see azaleas and camellias blooming simultaneously," Bowden said. "Seeing them together is quite a treat. But I guess not if you're an allergy sufferer."
In addition to the most common allergy symptoms, Arias said fatigue is also often associated with the condition.
gets stuffy, it can result in poor sleep, snoring," he said. "You wake up tired. In children, you see irritability, problems in school."
Arias said the "gold standard" for treating allergies is steroids, which are approved for patients two years or older. Antihistamines such as
and Alavert help ease symptoms for most allergy sufferers. Decongestants, including Sudafed, can also be effective, although they can cause side effects including insomnia, elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations.
Sanchez said thanks to Arias, she is glad to be off all the pills and back to her old self.
"I'm better than back to normal," she said. "I can breathe. I'm even getting on the treadmill now. I'm very happy."
Fernando Quintero can be reached at
Tips for managing allergies
Local allergist Dr. Jose Arias offers the following tips to prevent and control allergy symptoms:
• Stay indoors. Keep windows closed at home and when driving.
• Use an air filter and clean it regularly or run the air conditioner and change the filter often.
• Shower before bedtime to wash pollen off the skin.
• Avoid outdoor activites, such as yardwork, in the early morning and late afternoon, when pollen counts are highest.