Thursday, April 4, 2013
The sights and sounds of spring allergy season are in full swing: sneezing, sniffling, red eyes, dripping noses — not to mention the drifts of yellow-brown oak pollen blowing off the trees and coating cars.
“When you can see it, it's pretty heavy stuff,” says Dr. Paul Ratner, medical director of Sylvana Research, which tracks San Antonio pollen counts.
Since March 12, tree pollen counts have been classified in the “high” and “very high” range for San Antonio by the National Allergy Bureau counting station at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, according to data posted on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website.
“We can tell that we're in the spring allergy season because we've sure had a significant number of people that are suffering,” said Dr. Ted Kniker of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Associates of South Texas.
While San Antonio residents usually welcome rain, we can blame the precipitation in late winter for our allergy woes.
The rainfall helped boost the pollen production among plants, said Dr. Ruben Restrepo, a professor in the department of respiratory therapy at the University of Texas Health Science Center.
“The pollen count is expected to be very high this season,” Restrepo said. “Of course what will help to make things worse is windy days and extremely warm days, because when it is dry and windy, the pollen will be all over the place.”
But take comfort: This season so far is mild compared to the spring allergy season of 2010 when the pollen count hit about 40,000 grains per cubic meter of air in April.
By contrast, the oak pollen count this season has reached 7,000 or 8,000 grains per cubic meter of air, although it may rise.
Allergy sufferers got a break last year, when trees didn't produce as much pollen because of the drought, but the counts seem to be back to normal.
“There may have been days that were this high, but when you look at the total pollen for the season, they were nowhere near what we're seeing already this year,” Ratner said.
While oak pollen is both potent and the most prevalent seasonal allergen, other pollinating trees are causing suffering, too. Offenders include hackberry, Arizona ash and willow.
But oak offends more because it pollinates for a few months — longer than other trees, Ratner said. Pollen levels will stay high for two or three more weeks, then start to taper off through April.
Central and South Texas have the dubious distinction of being one of the allergy capitals of the country.
In 2012, San Antonio ranked ninth on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's list of worst cities for people with springtime allergies. McAllen came in second after Knoxville, Tenn.
Tackling allergies is a twofold process: prevention and treatment. Experts recommend keeping windows and doors shut at home and in the car during allergy season, staying inside when pollen counts peak in the afternoon and bathing and changing clothes after spending time outside. HEPA air purifiers can help filter allergens from air inside the home.
Gilbert Sarmiento, a staff pharmacist at Oakdell Pharmacy, recommends over-the-counter allergy medications such as Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra to treat runny noses and itchy eyes. A sinus rinse can help with extreme nasal congestion, he said.
The most powerful medications, which typically require a prescription, tend to be steroid or antihistamine nasal sprays, Knicker said. Allergy shots also can reduce sensitivity to certain allergens over time.
Dr. Rachel Tellez, a VSP Vision Care optometrist in San Antonio, tells patients to wear sunglasses when possible to keep pollen from their eyes.
Patients who wear contacts should use disposable lenses, particularly daily disposable lenses, to prevent build-up on their contacts.
Since symptoms of other eye problems, such as infections, can mimic those of allergies, it's wise to see a doctor to identify the problem, Tellez said.
News Researcher Michael Knoop contributed to this report.