Sick in Sacramento? It could be the flu or allergies -- or both

05/02/2012 12:00 AM

03/18/2013 4:30 PM

The wind is blowing, flowers are blooming and pollen is falling everywhere. Spring in Sacramento. Must be allergies, right?

Not necessarily.

This year, allergy and flu season have overlapped. As a result, for the past couple of months doctors have been seeing patients who think they have allergies and actually have the flu. Or think they have the flu and really have allergies. And then there are those who have a combination of the two.

"There are certainly people who are suffering from both," said Dr. Troy Scribner, an allergist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Roseville.

Blame it on the mild winter. This year, flu season, which typically hits in December, didn't come on strong in the region until late February, said Scribner. "We had a delayed flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) season," he said.

Meanwhile, an unusually dry winter meant trees – and there are a lot of them in Sacramento – began pollinating earlier than usual. Some people started having allergy symptoms in January. The two seasons have been overlapping since then, though flu season, which peaked in mid-April, is now winding down.

Laurie House thought she had the flu when she started getting congested, had the sniffles and kept sneezing in early March.

House, who lives in Folsom and works for the state, said she was surprised when she went to the doctor to hear that she had allergies. "A lot of the symptoms were the same. I've never had allergies this bad," she said. Two months later, she's still sneezing.

It may seem bad to sufferers, but this year is about typical, said Dr. Bradley Chipps of the Capital Allergy and Respiratory Disease Center. After more than 30 years in the Sacramento area, he has seen bad allergy seasons and good ones.

"Last year was worse because there was so much rain," said Chipps. "As far as the number of people affected, this year is about average."

More than 40 million Americans have nasal allergies commonly called "hay fever," according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation in America.

Tree pollen is the primary springtime trigger causing symptoms that include an itchy and runny nose, nasal and sinus congestion, repeated sneezing, watery eyes, inflamed sinuses and, in severe cases, difficulty breathing due to all of these symptoms.

Scribner said many suffers can be treated with over-the-counter drugs.

While flu season may be winding down – Scribner said this may be the last official week – allergy season is in full bloom. And Sacramentans are feeling it.

"Oh Spring, your beauty is making me weep, cough and sniffle. Ugh!" wrote Jennifer Fearing on her Facebook page Tuesday.

Fearing, who has lived in Sacramento for 12 years, started feeling symptoms last week – a sore throat, watery eyes and congestion.

"I've survived Sacramento a long time without allergies," said Fearing, a legislative advocate for the Humane Society of the United States.

This is only the second season she has felt these symptoms, she said. "It's pesky, but it's not so bad because you know it's not going to endure."

Allergy season should wind down in the next month or so, according to Chipps.

"It will go on until we get a couple of days in a row of 102 degrees or so," Chipps said. "Then it goes off like a light switch."


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