Ahh choo! Pollen, allergies arrive

Published 12:01 am Friday, March 22, 2013

With spring come those April showers and May flowers, warmer weather and sunny days, and of course, pollen.

However, pollen doesn’t just add a yellow powder coat to cars though. It’s the culprit behind itchy watery eyes, sneezing, coughing and stuffy noses as allergies react to the airborne molecules.

According to pollen count tracking website Pollen.com, allergy symptoms affect more than 67 million Americans. The website defines allergies as “a heightened sensitivity to a foreign substance – called an allergen – that causes the body’s immune system to overreact when defending itself.”

Pollen.com focuses on tracking pollen levels around the country and states that the levels for Covington County have consistently been high. Pollen count is a number that tracks the number of grains of pollen per cubic meter of air. It is ranked on a scale from low (0) to high (12). It’s tracked separately for the trees, grass species and weeds that produce it. With the number of people pollen allergies affect, it has become a staple in weather forecasts.

On Thursday, the pollen count in Andalusia and Opp was at 9.4, and in Florala, 9.8.

Those figures are expected to decrease today and tomorrow to around 7.5, but jump back up to 8.8 on Sunday. Those in the Florala-area should get the allergy medicine out as rates are expected to jump to 10.2 Saturday and 11.4 Sunday.

Plant species that flower and specifically affect Covington County include elm and maple trees, and junipers, which are also known as “cedars.”

When it comes to treating allergy symptoms, a recent nationwide survey by the American Optometric Association found that almost half of allergy suffers use antihistamines or other medications to treat their symptoms, which can help with typical symptoms like runny noses and sneezing.

Previously local ENT Dr. Angelo Agro said, “The old adage in allergy and immunology is that the best treatment is avoidance. That is impossible in living normal life in lower Alabama when all bloomed. So, the idea is try to minimize contact with pollen by staying in temperature and climate regulated areas.”

He recommended children with asthma should stay indoors or minimize outside play time.

“For adults, avoidance (of pollen) is almost impossible,” he said. “But you can get pollen out by using saltwater nasal spray before get too far in the respiratory track. Problem with pollen is that the smaller pollen is breathed into the lungs. The bigger pollens get filter out. That’s why it’s important to keep nose clear as possible. It may sound old fashioned, but it works.”

Agro said if medication is needed, one should choose an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin.

Dr. Bill Tillman of Tillman Family Eye Care said itchy, watery eyes are also a sign of allergies.

“While eye allergies can affect anyone, spring is especially hard on contact lens wearers,” he said. “Allergy season can make wearing them uncomfortable. Extended wear time and infrequent lens replacement are two of the main reasons contact lens wearers face more prevalent symptoms.”

Tillman said antihistamines, while working on symptoms like runny noses and sneezing, the meds can make eye symptoms worse by reducing tear quality and quantity.

“In most cases, we can sooth allergy-related conjunctivitis with prescription eye drops, depending on the patient and their medical history,” he said.

Tillman suggests sufferers avoid touching or rubbing dry eyes and washing one’s hands often with soap and water.

“And avoid sharing, and in some cases, wearing eye makeup, and never share contact lenses or contact lenses cases with someone else,” he said.