Pollen nothing to sneeze at

Published 7:36 pm Wednesday, April 14, 2010

When you leave your home this morning and see your porches and cars caked in that ugly dust, redirect your scorn from the pollen you see to the pollen you don’t.

What dusts your property overnight is pine tree pollen. The stuff that makes you scratch, sneeze and wheeze is virtually invisible, coming from oak, birch, cedar and juniper trees.

Pollen counts are up 10-20 percent higher than last year, according to Dr. Maxcie Sikora of the Alabama Allergy and Asthma Center.

Sikora said the pollen count is the highest she has seen it in recent memory, and has seen an unusual spike in allergic problems thanks to it.

“We’ve been incredibly busy in the last two to three weeks,” she said.

Sikora said the increased amount of pollen is likely due to the heavy rainfall through last winter, which paved the way for flowers to bloom faster and trees to produce more foliage and pollen.

With the heavy amounts, she said even those who are not allergic to pollen are also irritated by it.

“Pollen can be an irritant or an allergen,” she said. It’s almost like getting some sort of sand or other irritant in your eye. That’s going to bother you whether or not you’re truly sensitive. The volume of pollen can create an irritation to people who aren’t allergic.”

General symptoms include itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, nasal decongestion, post-nasal drip and even aural itchiness. Sikora said asthmatic patients often have flairs during heavy pollen seasons, causing some wheezing.

She said the easiest way for people to prevent or reduce symptoms is stay in climate-controlled environments when counts are so high.

“Don’t open any doors or windows while inside,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s so beautiful outside, so that’s hard to do. If you work or play outside, you’ll want to wash the excess pollen off when you come back indoors.”