Posted in allergies, Health, news, weather

Allergy Season May Start Early This Year

Multiple states are bracing for “early” allergy seasons.

We still have a month left of winter yet grass is sprouting, leaves are growing and flowers are blooming.  Add just having a wetter winter and warmer-than-normal temperatures to the mix and this is the perfect recipe for an early allergy season.

Allergy season usually begins with the start of Spring in March.  Yet many may start their symptoms as early as February if they are allergic to what’s blooming.

Tree pollens start first in January and then taper off in April.  Grass pollen starts to rise in February and March.   Finally weed pollens join the party by the Spring and extend through the Summer and Fall.

Here are your questions answered:

What are allergies?

Allergies are the result of the immune response to a foreign particulate that our body senses.  One could be allergic to pollen, dust, dander, food, insects, mold, metals, transfused blood, grafts, medicine and anything the body senses as a foreign intruder.  Even though these may be individually harmless, a hypersensitivity reaction occurs as a result of their intrusion into the body.  IgE antibodies find the allergen (intruder) and activate mast cells in the tissue and basophils in the blood.  When these cells get activated, they release substances to help protect the body, including histamines, leukotrienes, and cytokines. These help the body attempt to sneeze and cough the allergen out, wall off the antigen, signal more antibodies, or produce tears and nasal secretions to flush it out.

What are symptoms of seasonal allergies?

Symptoms of allergies could include any or a combination of the following:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Eye watering
  • Red Eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Rash
  • Itchy throat
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion….. to name a few.

How do they differ from a cold?

Colds may have very similar symptoms to allergies.  However they are different.

The common cold is caused by a virus.  When one gets infected by the virus they may feel malaise, fever, and achy.  This does not occur with allergies.

Moreover, nasal secretions from allergies are usually clear.  In a cold, the mucous could be thicker and with color.

The same holds true with sputum.  During an allergy the cough may have little to no mucous and if so, be light-colored.  Thick mucus could be a sign of an infection.

An allergic sore throat will seem more dry and scratchy.  A sore throat from a cold is more uncomfortable and less easy to soothe.

Allergies may persist or be cyclical.  Cold symptoms will usually subside after a few days and rarely persist longer than 10 days.

Can allergies lead to a cold?

Yes and no.  Allergies should not in and of themselves cause an infection. However they may make one more vulnerable for a virus or bacteria to take over.    Hence a bronchitis, sinus infection, or pneumonia could uncommonly follow an asthma attack.

Are seasonal allergies dangerous?

As stated previously, if one is susceptible to colds, an allergic attack could make them vulnerable. Moreover if one suffers from asthma, an allergy attack could incite an asthma attack.  Very rarely would we see a life threatening anaphylaxis to an allergen such as pollen.

Allergy season is here: What are the worst offenders?


How can we prevent and treat allergies?

Avoiding, or decreasing exposure to the allergen is key.   We suggest the following:

  1.  Be aware of your local weather and pollen counts.  If the weather begins to warm and regional vegetation is blooming, allergy season may be upon you sooner than you know.
  2. Avoid outside pollen from coming into your house.  Avoid the urge to open all the windows during Springtime as wind will bring the pollen in.
  3. Clean your air filters.  Replace air filters frequently and consider using HEPA Filters
  4. Wash off pollen from your hair and clothes before you sit on the couch or jump into bed.
  5. Close your car windows when you park.
  6. “Recirculate” the air in your car
  7. Discuss with your medical provider if you are a candidate for medications such as antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids or leukotriene antagonists.  
  8. If you suffer from respiratory illnesses or a chronic medical condition, discuss with your medical provider if you need to start your allergy medication before allergy season hits. Some of these medications may take a couple of weeks to reach therapeutic levels.

How can I find my local pollen counts?

Local tree, ragweed and grass pollen counts can be obtained here.


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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician

Posted in Health

If Holding in a Sneeze is Dangerous, What About a Fart?

This week we learned of a 34-year-old British man perforate his throat while trying to hold in a sneeze.  He wanted to avoid spreading germs and apparently taught himself to hold in sneezes to not spread mucous droplets.

The pressure from a sneeze kept in can not only rupture throat musculature, as occurred in this case, but also perforate ear drums.  So if holding air in can damage tissues and organs, what about holding in a fart?

Let’s break this down.

Holding in a fart can be dangerous

In 2013 Dr. Pommergaard and Rosenberg et al published a report encouraging to “let it go” when it comes to flatus on an airplane.  At high altitudes, i.e. on an airplane, air expands. Hence gastrointestinal symptoms could be exacerbated by the intestinal distention.  These include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heartburn

to name a few…  The authors write:

Furthermore the ability to restrain a fart may be impaired by flatus incontinence or falling asleep on the airplane. Persons susceptible to such flatus incontinence may be especially vulnerable to the effect of air holes, turbulence, coughing and sneezing.

On a more serious note, the physiological responses to distended intestine are elevated blood pressure and pulse, and reduced oxygenation of the blood, which can be serious for people already at risk for cardiovascular complications. Furthermore, flatus retention has been suggested as a major factor in the origin of sigmoid diverticular disease.

However, what hasn’t been documented is bowel perforation from holding in gas.  Bowel perforations occur from ulcerations that eat through the lining of the intestine and trauma to the wall.  A direct link to holding gas in has not been documented I believe with any case of bowel perforation.

A sneeze has force and speed that increases the air pressure.  Holding in gas that is not being expelled has significantly less pressure and therefore would be unlikely to directly lacerate tissue.

What about sitting on your farts?

Some will try to lessen the sound of the fart by expelling the gas while seated firmly.  So in this instance, air pressure in increased because the fart is being expelled by sphincter muscles and air is trapped between the anus and the chair.  This may cause damage and some back pressure, but would occur at the level of the rectum and anus and most likely spare the large intestine from injury.

What’s in a fart?

Flatus, or flatulence, is commonly called a “fart”.  Flatus is made up of multiple gases obtained from swallowing and produced by the microbes lining the intestine. These include hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane.

Flatus odor, however, is caused from minor sulfur gas components including hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide and others.



Can farts make you sick?

Studies have found that bacteria passed from flatus will grow on a petrie dish but that clothes provide a filter.  Reports of pink eye being obtained from a pillow case soiled in flatus are anecdotal.

However, nausea and headaches can happen.  The hydrogen sulfide, depending on the dose, can cause headaches, nausea, skin and eye irritation.  In toxic doses, hydrogen sulfide (which has the characteristic rotten egg odor) can cause convulsions, delirium and death.  But hydrogen sulfide comprises such a minute amount in flatus that no one would become that ill by smelling it.

Can farts be beneficial?

For the farter, yes.  It assists in movement of the stool and passing it can help prevent bloating and constipation.  However for the recipient of the smell, it may be beneficial too.

In 2014, a study from Exeter University, found the hydrogen sulfide in gas to HELP cells recover from mitochondrial damage, allowing their energy powerhouses to continue working. Researchers believe this could help repair the damage in heart disease, stroke, dementia and many other diseases.

In summary, holding in farts, or burps for that matter, may cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms but in theory should not cause serious injury to the intestines by means of perforation.  Keep in mind, however, that you only have so much control.  The air will need to escape somehow, so the next sneeze, cough or laugh during a board meeting or date may be your gas’s only time to escape.


Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician