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As the seasons change, so do your health concerns

Spring fever: Allergies, stiff muscles among warm-weather challenges
Updated 10:28 am, Tuesday, March 19, 2013
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It might be hard to tell from the recent runs of cold and messy weather, but spring is finally here.

Yes, today is the vernal equinox, commonly referred to as the first day of spring. And while many of us have been longing for the change of season -- and the warm weather and sunshine that we hope will come with it -- spring carries a variety of health concerns.

Of course, the first seasonal health scourges that jump to most minds are allergies, which start to rear their sneezy, sniffly heads. Allergies are an overreaction of the body's immune system to certain substances, which range from dust to certain foods and medications. The main worry are seasonal allergies, as plants and trees start to bloom, producing pollen, a common allergen.

Those allergic to pollen can develop such unpleasant symptoms as runny noses and watery eyes. At least one local doctor said these pesky problems have already begun to turn up in the region. "We have started seeing some people coming with mild symptoms," said Dr. Katherine Bloom, an allergist with Allergy and Asthma Care of Fairfield County, which has offices in Fairfield and Monroe. "It's hard to predict how the season is going to go, but this is usually the time of year when it starts."

Mild allergies can typically be treated with over-the-counter medications, but Bloom said avoidance is probably the best approach. That means staying inside whenever pollen counts are high. You can find pollen counts for the region on various websites, including www.pollen.com, run by IMS Health Inc., a privately owned company that performs health research.

If you've been outside on a high-pollen day, Bloom recommends washing your hair and changing your clothes when you get back inside.

Another seasonal concern is whether our bodies are ready for spring activities, such as yard work, bicycle riding and other demanding outdoor tasks. "People have been sedentary all winter and you don't want them getting out there too soon and overdoing it," said Dr. Chris Davison, medical director of the department of emergency medicine at Greenwich Hospital.

Though you may be itching to get out of the house after several months cooped up inside, Davison said your muscles might not be used to a sudden onslaught of activity, so you need to ease your way into spring.

Dr. Gerard Girasole, of the Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center in Trumbull, agreed. Girasole, also the author of "The 7-Minute Back Pain Solution," (Harlequin Nonfiction, $16.95), said there can be a lot of back and neck injuries in spring, mainly due to people trying to jump start their muscles too soon.

"What happens during winter is that we de-condition our bodies," he said. "Muscles, like anything else, need to be used. Muscles stay healthy by being used. In winter, we don't do a lot and our muscles tighten up."

Girasole said the best way to get yourself ready for spring activities is by stretching. He also recommends strengthening your core, which includes muscles in the lower back, hips and abdominal area. "Those are the muscles we use to do most of our work," Girasole said. "If your core is weak, that's when you develop aches and pains."

There are many different ways to tone up these important muscle groups and Girasole recommended doing a web search for core exercises or finding videos online.

Beyond aches and allergies, doctors said spring's health hazards include the resurgence of disease-carrying pests, particularly ticks. Dr. Thomas Koobatian, director of emergency medicine and chief of staff at New Milford Hospital, said the teensy critters -- which can cause such illnesses as Lyme disease -- start bugging people early in the spring. "They're mobile as soon as the weather gets nice, and they're hungry," he said.

He and other doctors recommended avoiding wooded or grassy areas, if possible, and doing regular tick checks when you do venture out into the brush.

If this litany of spring-related health woes has you longing for the chill of early January, take heart -- spring, for the most part, is good for you, said Dr. Joseph Feuerstein, director of integrative medicine at Stamford Hospital. Though he agreed the milder seasons are a tough time for allergies and other issues, Feuerstein said they have a lot of benefits as well. For instance, if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, he said, the spring sunshine will be a welcome sight. Also, as long as you're safe about it, going outside and getting fresh air and exercise is usually a plus after the doldrums of winter.

"In general, spring is a slightly healthier time for most people," Feuerstein said.

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/