The 2013-14 flu season began with heart-breaking stories of adults in Texas, in an age group not normally vulnerable to the flu, dying from the flu.  The H1N1 strain of this year’s flu has been a challenge for many, especially those who are very old, very young, have an underlying medical condition, and/or did not get a flu shot.  By and large, this year’s vaccine was effective for most people.

The CDC provides a weekly public report called Flu View that tracks the statistics of influenza cases across the country.  This week, Texas, in region 6, is shown having an elevated level of flu cases, but that must be taken in the context of the dwindling weeks of the influenza season.  There are five states in the region, and it’s hard to pin-point where the lingering cases are appearing.

“The epidemiologists tell us we are in a low period of influenza.  We had been in a very high period back in January, but it has tapered off quite a bit,” says Kathy Barton from Houston Health and Human Services.

But before the influenza season begins to fade into a memory, we also have to embrace the 2014 seasonal allergy season.  It’s at full tilt boogie.

“It started back in December, actually,” Dr. Dat Tran says.  He is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Pediatric Research Center: Allergy, Immunology, Rheumatology at UT Health Science Center at Houston Medical School.  “That’s when the Cedar Mountain, also known as Ash Juniper, allergies began.” 

Central Texas has a lot of Cedar Mountain, and the wind would blow the pollen in our direction from time to time, bringing misery to those with sensitivity to that allergen.

“They start having the sneezing, the runny nose, the congestion, the itchy, watery eyes.  Even asthma attacks,” says Dr. Tran.  “And as Ash Juniper pollen declines in February, you have the elms, oak and pine.  And in March, the highest is oak, followed by pine, elm, ash and birch trees.  So right now it’s a very high pollen count.  Dr. Tran says all indications are that we are in for a typical year viz a viz allergies.  So far there is nothing out of the ordinary and no indication that that will change.

Seasonal pollen allergies present many of the same symptoms as seasonal influenza: low-grade fever, sneezing, congestion, runny nose, cough.  So at this time of year, how do you know if you have the flu or allergies?

Dr Tran says there are a host of viruses in addition to flu bugs running around Houston.

“I tell people, if you have a low grade fever (as opposed to a high fever) the one way that you can tell if it’s a virus or allergies is by taking an over-the-counter allergy medicine like Zyrtec, Claratin, or Allegra.  And if it’s allergies, you should notice a huge improvement within 30 minutes.  Like taking Tylenol for a headache.  But if it is infectious, you will feel minimal relief, and should be concerned that you might be coming down with a cold or the flu,” Dr. Tran tells KTRH.

 

As for allergies, Dr. Tran says your first line of defense is taking an anti-histamine.  If it has a sedative effect, like Benadryl, only take it at night.  When pollen counts are especially high, you might only get minimal relief.  Dr. Tran recommends a nasal saline wash.  Not the spray, the wash.  Works great for allergies and colds, is not a medication, and is fully natural.  If you continue to get worse, it’s time to call the doctor.