Have you noticed what looks like yellow dust all over your car? That's pollen...which means allergy season is here. Nearly one-quarter of all Americans suffer from outdoor allergies. If you're one of them, take heart. There are lots of ways you can feel better.
All of us breathe in tiny particles of pollen floating in the air. In the spring it's pollen from trees, then, come summertime, the pollen is from grass, then in autumn, the pollen comes from weeds. Sometimes it's not a big deal. But if your immune system over-reacts to pollen, your body produces something called histamine, which triggers allergy symptoms.
Drew and Brooke Kubovik and their two school-aged sons know all about that. All four of them deal with allergies and know all too well the various symptoms.
"Wheezing, running nose, watery eyes, just a horrible situation," Drew described.
A great resource for allergy sufferers is your local weather forecaster. Patrick Rockey is the chief meteorologist at WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. He said you can know what to expect by keeping an eye on the weather.
"This year's allergy season has been unusually bad," he said, "And one of the reasons is because we've had such a wet winter in many parts of the country. That just encourages things that produce pollen to grow."
Here is the list of the worst cities for allergies:
- Jackson, Miss.
- Knoxville, Tenn.
- Chattanooga, Tenn.
- McAllen, Texas
- Louisville, Ky.
- Wichita, Kan.
- Dayton, Ohio
- Memphis, Tenn.
- Oklahoma City, Okla.
- Baton Rouge, La.
Rockey said weather is the reason certain cities remain pollen havens year after year, while others do not.
"Some of the worst areas are in the South and mid-South," he said. "Areas where you have a longer growing season, it gets warmer and so the pollens bloom for longer during the year."
"But another thing that makes them bad is you get big changes in the weather," he continued. "You have big storm systems that move through so you'll go from high pressure to low pressure over a couple of days and it's that change in pressure that can really make folks with allergies miserable."
Each day, most local weather forecasters broadcast what's known as the Pollen Index. It's a great tool for people with allergies. It tells you how much pollen will be in the air that day. As a general rule, rainy days have less; windy days have more.
But the Pollen Index also tells you what kind of pollen is presently in your area.
"You may not be sensitive at all to the grass pollen, but it may be the tree pollen that gets you," Rockey pointed out.
Dr. Greg Pendell is an allergist in Chesapeake, Va. He tells his patients they'll feel a lot better if they make a few changes. Topping the list: close your windows.
"We all like that fresh spring air to come in, but what's in that air? Pollen. So keep that out," he advised. "And use your air conditioning. The air conditioning helps to cool, dry and clean the air and that's good for people with allergies. Same thing with your car. Windows up air conditioning on."
Also, change your clothes when you come inside because you're likely covered in pollen. And remember to wash you skin and hair.
"I always tell my patients to keep an allergy-free zone in their house," Dr. Pendell said. "And it should be the bedroom because that's where you spend the most time and where you sleep."
That means washing your bedding frequently in hot water. Brooke Kubovik sticks to this rule and has noticed the benefits, noting that it's worth the extra effort.
"We change the sheets every week because even though the windows are closed, pollen can still get in just by going in and out of the house," she explained.
Using a Neti-Pot or nasal irrigation will also help. Warm salt water gently rinses away all of the pollen trapped in your nose and sinuses.
"I recommend at least once to twice daily," Dr. Pendell said. "But it's not a drug, it's not medicine, so you can't really overdo it."
Pollen is at its worst from 5:00 to 10:00 in the morning. So if possible, wait until later to go outside. For added protection, wear an N-95 mask, available at most home stores.
Over-the-counter medications can also help. Dr. Pendell recommends Claritin and Allegra. If those don't work, ask for a prescription. Allergy shots work the best.
"So the allergy shots work by giving a tiny, but increasing, amount of allergen, and it increases the immune system's tolerance," Dr. Pendell said. "So over time we can decrease, or eliminate your symptoms altogether."
Patients start off by getting a shot once a week, but taper off to once every six weeks.
If you've noticed you now have allergies when you didn't used to before, you're not alone. Allergies are at an all time high. Doctors know this for sure. But they're not so sure why.
There are three possible explanations:
- We're Too Clean: This is the theory that our immune system is out of whack because we're are not exposed to enough bacteria.
- We're Too Dirty: This theory suggests our bodies are reacting to being exposed to too many environmental toxins, such as pollution.
- Climate Change: This is the theory that global warming is causing plants to produce three to five times more pollen than they used to.
"All sound equally plausible, all are equally difficult to prove, and I think we're still in the dark about it," Pendell said.
So regardless of the reason, allergies are getting worse. But don't let that keep you behind closed doors. By using common sense solutions, you can still enjoy the great outdoors.