After the dreary, gray, cold of winter comes spring, refreshing the earth and our spirits with beauty and promise. But spring—with its warmer temperatures, longer days, frequent showers, and beautiful blooms—can also be a harbinger of a whole list of illnesses.
Why the upswing? Spring is the second peak season for the common cold, and this most likely due to the increase in seasonal allergies. The fluctuations in barometric pressures, temperatures, and wind common during seasonal changes can irritate the nasal passages and airways and compromise the immune system’s ability to fight off other invaders, thus increasing vulnerability to infection.
In addition, the warmer temperatures of spring can tempt people to venture outside, especially after being outside all winter. Viruses thrive in cooler temperatures and, according to a recent study from Yale University researchers, a 7-degree drop in ambient temperature can impair the immune system’s ability to stop them from proliferating.
Springtime also ushers in a heightened travel season, with many conferences and conventions, vacations, or even spring break. More travel equals more exposure to a broader range of bacteria and viruses.
With the all the warming and blooming going on in spring, be aware of what may be waiting for you and your staff in your waiting room:
Spring is a lovely time of budding trees, bushes, and flowers. But the pollen needed for this to happen is exactly what causes seasonal allergies to strike. In fact, in some states, spring allergies may begin as early as February. Further, spring showers may promote mold growth, both indoors and out. Although not all mold species cause allergies, the most common culprits include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium.
Tell patients to be proactive in combating their seasonal allergies this spring. An ounce of prevention with allergies is worth a pound of…sneezing and wheezing! Begin patients on their allergy medicine about 2 weeks before symptoms are expected. Also advise them to follow the pollen counts online. These are usually available through local weather forecasts.
Asthma triggers abound outdoors in the spring, and can include pollen, air temperature changes, fertilizers, and insect repellants. Indoor triggers—such as dust, mold, and cleaning chemicals—can also be problematic. Be sure to counsel your asthmatic patients to have their peak flow meters and rescue inhalers at the ready.
Spring is a peak time for the common cold. Rhinoviruses—which cause roughly 50% of all common colds—are spread easily. Counsel patients and staff on the importance of prevention strategies, such as washing hands regularly and avoidance of touching the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Unfortunately, the flu does not stop with the warmer temperatures of spring. In fact, flu viruses do well in humidity. Counsel patients to be vigilant, and to continue washing their hands and engaging in disease control measures, especially while traveling.
Warmer, rainy spring weather is the preference of deer ticks, which transmit Lyme disease. These tiny creatures become active in temperatures above 35° F. Avoidance strategies work best, so counsel your patients to avoid walking in tall vegetation and to use tick repellant whenever they spend longer periods outdoors. Tell them to be vigilant for signs of Lyme disease, including a bull’s-eye rash. Antibiotic treatment of early Lyme disease is usually successful, and most commonly includes doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil for durations of up to 21 days. Patients with cardiac or neurological symptoms may require IV antibiotics, such as ceftriaxone or penicillin.
Like rhinoviruses, noroviruses thrive in the warmer weather. They are very contagious, and although the symptoms—which include stomach pain, cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting—usually last for only 1-2 days, those afflicted are usually contagious for 3 days after symptoms abate. Symptoms may also include a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Treatment is symptomatic. Counsel your patients to wash their hands often, disinfect bedding and household items, and stay home from work or school as necessary.
Conjunctivitis also seems to thrive in the spring, but can often be confused with allergy symptoms. Conjunctivitis can be bacterial, viral, or even allergic in etiology. The bacterial and viral forms are both highly contagious. Also known as “pink eye,” conjunctivitis is most common among children and is easily spread. Preventive measures include regular and frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes. While treatment for viral conjunctivitis is for symptoms only, bacterial conjunctivitis will require antibiotics. Treatments for allergic conjunctivitis may include oral and/or ocular antihistamines.