Springtime and the Sneezin' Is Easy05/19/11
THURSDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- For people with pollen
allergies, this year is especially tough, say allergy experts.
"Everyone always has a reason to think the current year is the worst year ever for allergies," said Dr. David Rosenstreich, director of the allergy and immunology division at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
But this year those complaints really do have some merit, he
"It's been a very unusual allergy season. I don't know if it's because of the very wet winter or that it's been cold longer, but the pollen counts are much higher. This week, it's been running about 6,000 grains a day, instead of the usual 1,500," Rosenstreich said of his local area.
Pollen grains are the tiny male cells from flowering plants and
trees, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and
Immunology (AAAAI). Sometimes, bees and other insects carry pollen
from plant to plant, but some plants release the pollen into the
air for the wind to carry.
While that may work for plants and trees, it can cause sneezing
and stuffiness in humans with over-sensitive immune systems who are
exposed to these airborne cells.
Pollen counts vary from area to area. For example, normal pollen
counts in the northeastern United States are generally much higher
than in the Midwest or Southwest in the spring, because the
Northeast has far more trees.
But this year, there's little relief anywhere for allergy
sufferers. Dr. Joseph Leija, an allergist at Loyola University
Health System's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill.,
said 2011 is the worst year he's ever seen for high pollen
Leija provides pollen counts for the Midwest to the National
Allergy Bureau, a division of the AAAAI. His most recent count was
1,500, which is very high for the Midwest, he said.
An unusually wet winter and temperatures that varied from too
warm back down to colder than average have made trees in the
Midwest pollinate in stages, and to finish pollinating later than
normal, Leija said. "Usually, by this time of the year, the pollen
count goes down, and people usually aren't prepared to be dealing
with allergies in late May," said Leija.
Climate change is also affecting allergy seasons. "Climate
change is making pollen seasons start earlier and end later. And
the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes ragweed
stronger in the fall," said Rosenstreich.
So, if you're suffering this spring, what can you do to feel
One of the most important things you can do, said Leija, is to
take your clothes off outside of your bedroom, and shower at
"If you're outdoors during the day, your hair and clothes get pollen on them. If you take a shower in the evening and keep your clothes out of the bedroom, you keep the pollen out of your bedroom," he said. That may help alleviate a lot of your symptoms, he said.
Another mistake is opening up all of the windows. While that may
bring in fresh air, it also brings in pollen. Instead, Leija and
Rosenstreich recommend running an air conditioner so that any air
coming into the home is filtered. Rosenstreich said that air
filters can help if you run them with the windows shut.
Certain foods may make you more sensitive to tree pollens, and
vice versa, Leija said. Foods to avoid during the spring if you
have allergies include apples, celery, peaches, pears, cherries,
hazelnuts and plums, he said.
"People often complain they have itching in the roof of their mouth or throat after eating these foods and they didn't know why," said Leija.
Both experts recommended trying an over-the-counter
antihistamine. Rosenstreich said many are available in non-drowsy
24-hour formulations. If those don't provide relief, he said, it's
time to see an allergist. Prescription medications, such as nasal
steroid sprays and antihistamine eye drops, may help relieve your
itchy eyes and runny nose.
And, if you're really miserable every springtime, Rosenstreich
said you might want to consider allergy shots so that next spring
you aren't one of those saying, "This year's allergies are the
To see the
pollen counts in your area, click on this map from
the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the U.S.
National Allergy Bureau.
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.