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Vanderbilt allergist offers tips to deal with suddenly changing temperatures

Jan. 6, 2015, 9:55 AM

The skies are gray and rainy for days, but suddenly are clear and dry. Temperatures are warm and mild, and then suddenly plunge in an arctic chill.

And suddenly lots of people are dealing with runny noses and reaching for pain relievers or other remedies to deal with sinus and allergy problems.

John Fahrenholz, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine who practices at the Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program, says that whipsawing temperatures can be a real challenge for people with allergies—and with the rest of us, too.

“People who know they have allergies should make sure to take their allergy medications daily during such times,” he said.

But even those of us who don’t suffer from allergies can develop a runny nose when the temperature and humidity are changing rapidly. Rhinitis—a swollen, itchy nose—can occur in the midst of the rapidly changing weather that many parts of the U.S. are experiencing this week.

Since the weather can cause an itchy, runny nose, it can be a challenge to figure out who is experiencing allergy symptoms and who is not.

Here are a few guidelines from Fahrenholz to help you—and your nose—through crazy changeable weather:

  • If temperature changes bring on an itchy, runny nose, try using an over-the-counter salt water nose spray or nasal sinus rinses. These can also be helpful in dealing with cold, dry air in winter. 
  • If symptoms persist even when the temperatures level out, you may have allergies. 
  • Don’t blame changing weather for your cold or flu—there’s no evidence that cycles of cold and warm days make your immune system any more likely to pick up a virus. 
  • People with a tendency toward ongoing allergy symptoms during the winter months should make sure to take their regular allergy medications. Cold dry air can cause irritation to the tissues in the nose leading to increased symptoms that may feel like you have a common cold or increased nasal allergy symptoms. 
  • If regular use of over-the-counter antihistamines or other allergy products is not controlling symptoms, the allergy sufferer should make an appointment to see a health care professional to see if prescription medications, such as nasal steroids, may help.

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