Sneezing season’s springing up, but help’s available for sufferers

A mix of avoidance and treatment techniques can lighten misery of sunny days

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 
photoThe daily weather page printed in The Columbian includes data on pollen counts and air quality. Click image to enlarge.

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photoPollen covers a car parked outside the State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, when officials measured a record high pollen count of 9,369 particles per cubic meter in metro Atlanta. A warm winter is sending pollen counts soaring to record levels in Georgia.

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photoPollen litters the sidewalk in Atlanta last month. A warm winter sent pollen counts in Georgia soaring to record levels.

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It’s that -- ah-choo! -- time of year again.

Seasonal allergies are here to dampen spring days with congestion, sneezes and red, itchy eyes. And if predictions of a late spring and dry summer hold true, this year could be worse for allergy-sufferers than years past.

The La Niña weather pattern brought plenty of wet weather this winter and early spring, said Dr. Mark Chan, an allergist with Kaiser Permanente.

“What that means from an allergy standpoint is there is a lot more water to help flourish the growth of these trees and grasses,” Chan said.

“We have a lot of pollen that’s being generated by this lovely rain,” he added.

Seasonal allergies come in different phases, depending on what’s pollinating.

The first to hit is tree pollen. In early spring, about February or March, such early pollinators as hazelnut, alder and birch trees can cause allergy symptoms. By late March

and into April and May, tree pollen peaks, Chan said.

Then comes the dreaded grass season, which usually produces high pollen levels throughout the region, Chan said.

From May through July, grass seed provokes allergy symptoms. Willamette Valley grass farms contribute to the high pollen levels, he said.

And finally, from mid-July through September, weed allergies flare up.

In some ways, the rain has delayed the allergy season. But that means as soon as the sun comes out in Clark County, pollen levels -- and allergy symptoms -- will spike.

“After the rain, if we get a lot of sun and dry, we’re going to see a lot going on,” said Jennifer Bane, a physician assistant at the Allergy & Asthma Center of S.W. Washington in Vancouver.

Even if the sunny days come intermittently, allergy sufferers will experience symptoms. Just one sunny, windy day can stir up the pollen built up by days of rain, she said.

Things that help

People who experience allergy symptoms can take steps to help curb the effects of the pollen, said Chan and Bane.

On those sunny, windy days when pollen counts are sure to be higher, allergy sufferers should try to stay indoors and designate the lawn-mowing duties to someone else. Running air conditioners and keeping windows closed, especially bedroom windows, will help to keep pollen out of the house, Bane said.

In addition, delay outdoor activities like jogging and gardening until later in the day when pollen levels are lower, Chan said.

Other ways to reduce pollen exposure are to change clothes after coming inside and shower in the evenings to get pollen off the skin. Dogs and cats that go outside can bring pollen in on their fur, so keep pets out of the bed and off the couch, Bane said.

Allergy medication is also an option, Chan said. If you know you’ll have severe allergy symptoms, start taking medication a day or two before the nice weather is set to arrive or even before the season starts, he said.

And if none of those options provide enough relief, Chan and Bane suggest a visit to an allergist’s office. Allergy shots and higher-strength medications are available, Bane said.

“It’s very treatable,” she said. “We get so few nice days around here that you really want to be able to enjoy them.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.