Is It Too Early To Take My Allergy Medication?

April 26, 2010

Last week, a patient who usually does not have spring allergy symptoms until early to mid May called me to ask if it was too early for him to start taking his allergy medications.  He stated that he had started to feel eye and nose symptoms and wondered if it was OK for him to begin taking the medications.  After a short conversation where I was able to ascertain that his symptoms were in fact most likely allergic and not the result of a cold, I quickly answered that he should absolutely start his allergy medication. 

I think there are a few interesting things to learn from this encounter.  First off, it is never too early to start allergy medications.  I think people who know they are allergic to a certain pollen should start medication as soon as the pollen is in the air, even if the pollen is only present at low levels that do not yet cause symptoms.  In fact, it is appropriate to start medications even if a particular pollen is not detectable yet, if it is expected to be present in the air very soon and you know it causes symptoms.   It is always easier to treat mild allergy symptoms than allergy symptoms that are full-blown.  

Within in the context of my patient’s question, it is important to be aware of the fact that you can develop a new allergy at any time.   A pollen that might not have affected you one year could cause bad symptoms the next.  Also, although we like to think that trees pollinate like clockwork in a given geographic region, there are always minor variations in the timing of pollination.  This year, for instance, several trees began pollinating earlier than usual in the New York metropolitan area.  I think this might be because we had a few days of record-breaking heat in early April.  

Another thing to learn from this is that if you are experiencing allergy symptoms at a time of the year when you usually don’t, it is important to make sure you are actually having allergy symptoms and are not dealing with some sort of cold or viral infection.   People with allergies can usually tell the difference.  Some objective differences include the fact that allergies to do not cause fever or colored nasal secretions, and that itching is usually not a huge factor with colds.   Allergy medication is usually not helpful for a cold and could be counterproductive to your natural immune response to the cold. 

As always, I encourage people to listen to their bodies and adjust treatment accordingly.  You are the best judge of what is happening to you.  If you think you are experiencing allergy symptoms, it is probably appropriate to take your medications instead of suffering with symptoms.  You can always figure out later if you have developed a new allergy or if, as was the case with my patient last week, the pollen season just started a little earlier for you this year.

Note: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not meant as specific medical advice for a specific person.   If you have a medical problem, please contact your doctor


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