PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Sneezing? Sniffling? Itching? It’s peak allergy season and some people in the Pacific Northwest have really been suffering. 

In late May, grass is the primary culprit.

Dr. Aleen Lee, a general otolaryngologist at Mt. Scott Ear, Nose and Throat, & Sleep Medicine, said the early heat wave that hit Western Oregon and Washington this spring resulted in seasonal allergies affecting people sooner than they usually do. 

“We’ve had really unusual weather and so that definitely impacts the pollen production … when it gets very hot, then the tree pollen starts to bloom, followed by the grasses,” she explained. 

Ragweed allergy season starts in the fall in Oregon. 

Anyone who has seasonal allergies due to pollen should know how to understand pollen count, which is the number of grains of pollen or mold spores in a cubic meter of the air. The greater the count, the more likely people who suffer from the allergens with high levels will experience symptoms.

In Portland on Monday, the grass pollen count was very high, tree pollen was moderate and ragweed was low. 

In order to know what pollen you’re allergic to, you may need to visit a health care provider for an allergy test. 

“If you’ve had allergy testing and you know what you’re allergic to, then before the season when the pollen is in the air, you can start to kind of take measures to protect yourself, keeping the windows closed, keeping the car doors, windows closed and everything,” Lee said. 

She said avoiding pollen in the air is one way to help prevent symptoms. 

Air quality is another thing allergy sufferers should keep in mind. If a person already has inflammation in their nose or respiratory system as a result of allergies, then pollutants like smog or smoke can cause additional irritation. 

Fumes and smoke in the air on their own don’t cause allergies, Lee said. They usually only create additional symptoms for people who are already experiencing allergies or other respiratory or health conditions.

As far as treating allergies goes, Lee said the first thing people should do is avoid the things they are allergic to. For example, stay away from rooms that have mold and keep windows shut when there are high amounts of pollen in the air.

After that, she recommends people try second-generation antihistamines. These are over-the-counter medications like Claritin, Allegra, Xyzal and Zyrtec. Nasal sprays can also help, she said. 

A newer over-the-counter nasal spray Lee recommends is Astepro. 

“If you haven’t tried it and you have really severe nasal congestion as a main symptom, give that a try because that’s really great for some people,” she said. 

One word of caution she gives is to not use allergy medications combined with decongestants for prolonged periods of time. This includes things like Claritin-D, Allegra-D and Zyrtec-D. Those medications, she said, should only be taken for a few days in a row and not for long-term control. Long-term decongestant use can lead to side effects like high blood pressure, she said.

If people feel they need additional long-term treatment and that their over-the-counter allergy medication isn’t doing enough, they should talk to a doctor. 

Doctors like Lee can discuss other treatments like allergy shots and eye drops. 

While this might be the peak of allergy season, some people suffer year-round from things like mold and dust mites. Lee said it’s important allergy sufferers know how to minimize their symptoms and seek help if they need it.