SHERMAN, Tex. -- Many of us are sneezing and sniffling this time of year, but is it just the common cold or something more?
If you've seen the allergy index on First News at Six, you probably know it's not only cold and flu season, it's one of the worst times of year for allergy sufferers.
So how do you know if you're one of them? And if you are, how can you treat your allergies?
We went to one local expert to find out.
Sneezing. Coughing. These could be signs that you are one of the more than 50 million allergy sufferers in the U.S.
For those who live in Texoma, this is one of the most active allergy seasons of the year.
One Marian Francis used to dread.
"Runny nose, eyes, miserable," she says.
So what makes spring such a tough time for allergies?
"Mountain Cedar--that will continue the next several weeks. With the next thing appearing of allergenic significance being Elm," says Allergy Specialist Dr. Vern Laing.
Dr. Laing says these pollens are carried by Southwesterly winds from central and north Texas all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For folks like Marian, symptoms can be so severe, they're often mistaken for flu, forcing them to call in sick.
"I had sore throats quite a bit, I did miss work that way," says Francis.
Marian wasn't alone. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says those missed days of work and other related costs total about 3.4 billion dollars each year in the U.S
"At first I took flu medication...thought, that's what it is. But come to find out...it wasn't just a cold."
The National Institute of Health says only 10 % of sufferers are actually diagnosed.
Since I've always thought I have allergies, but never had much luck with over the counter medications, I decided to get some answers from the experts.
The first step, an interview about my medical history--then, it's truth time.
Dr. Laing and his assistant, Jennifer Thompson, first use a derma pick to expose skin to the extract of about 36 different allergens, typically grasses, pollens, dust and pet dander.
The screening, or derma scratch test may look painful, but it's really not that bad.
Patients will feel a quick pin prick, and possibly an itching sensation at some of the spots tested, but Dr. Laing says that's usually it.
After about 20 minutes, the results are clear.
"What we've got here are grass pollen and house dust."
Then it's on to the next step, intradermal testing.
Jennifer uses a thin needle to inject a stronger solution containing other allergens underneath the skin.
"This one's ragweed. I'll be interested to see how you do with that one!"
After another 20 minutes, their initial suspicions about my allergies are confirmed.
"This is a four right here, that's cat...does that surprise you?"
Once specific allergies are diagnosed, Dr. Laing works with each patient to determine their treatment.
"If you have allergy..basically there are three things you can do: you can avoid it, you can medicate it, you can immunize it," Dr. Laing says.
He recommends and performs immunizations.
The shots containing allergen extracts are given on a weekly basis, until an immunity develops, then they are given monthly over a period of about five years.
But Texomans like Marian who suffer from allergies say it's time and money well spent.
"I don't plan on missing any. I don't want to be back in the shape I was in...I was miserable. If you had allergies as bad as I did, come in. You'd be in here immediately...you just feel better."
For more information about allergy diagnosis and treatment, click the links below.