Sneak Attack

Allergy season has blossomed early this year

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Sneak Attack. Allergy season has blossomed early this year.

Ah, spring. The trees are budding, the flowers are blooming, and this year the bounty of nature has flourished even earlier than usual. What's not to love?

Allergies, of course--especially tree-pollen allergies. More than half of the 40% of Americans who have seasonal allergies are sensitive to the dusting of pollen that trees discharge as they emerge from their winter hibernation. That means millions of people are suffering mightily through this early spring, thanks to the sneezing, watery eyes, runny noses and congestion they've developed ahead of schedule. "People were caught by surprise," says Dr. Alvin Sanico of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Timing matters because for many allergy sufferers, treatment works best when it precedes the first encounter with pollen particles. Since pollen counts tend to peak in April, most people don't seek prescriptions for medications--like the nasal steroid sprays that prime the body to ward off the inflammation and allergy symptoms that pollen triggers--until March. But with the warmer weather, the National Allergy Bureau, which keeps a national pollen count, says the spring allergy season shifted forward by about a month. And allergists note that their patients' symptoms are more severe than usual, likely because sufferers didn't have time to pretreat themselves.

There isn't much you can do about the pollen, but allergy sufferers can lessen symptoms by keeping windows closed, avoiding tree-filled areas and using allergy medications regularly. Nasal sprays can relieve some inflammation, and over-the-counter antihistamines can provide relief from itchy and watery eyes and sneezing--at least until summer, when grass allergies kick up.


Fish Tales? The Truth About Omega-3s

Packed with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants that stave off heart disease, fish is a key ingredient in any healthy diet.

Or at least that's what researchers thought until the latest study on the subject. In a review of 14 trials in which people with heart trouble were randomly assigned to take either a placebo or supplements containing concentrated amounts of the EPA and DHA omega-3s found in fish, scientists found little difference in rates of heart attack, stroke or heart-related death over one to five years of follow-up.

That doesn't mean you should take fish off the menu. The authors say that either supplements may not be as helpful to the heart as direct-from-fish sources of omega-3s or heart patients may need higher doses of the fatty acids than healthy adults do to benefit. Which is why the American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat several servings of fish a week: omega-3 supplements may not fend off second heart events, but fish is still a good source of healthy fats and protein.


Dental Jeopardy

Visiting the dentist isn't a joy, but there's a fresh reason to be wary of the doctor's "Open wide."

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