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Pollen wreaks sneezy, wheezy havoc

Thursday, April 24, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

This year’s spring allergy season could be among the worst in an “allergy corridor” that includes Martinsville-Henry County, said a local ear, nose and throat doctor who is seeing patients affected by allergies.

The corridor runs from about the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean and is bounded on the north by southern Pennsylvania and on the south by northern South Carolina, said Dr. Richard Galos of Martinsville Physician Practices.

Before coming to Martinsville, Galos was in South Hill and before that, west of Knoxville, Tenn. In terms of pollen season, the three places are similar, he said.

“If you look at a map, we’re basically in line with Knoxville,” Galos said of the latitudes.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Knoxville the worst city for spring allergy sufferers in the country in 2010, 2011 and 2012; No. 2 last year; and No. 16 for 2014, according to online reports. Louisville, Ky., is ranked No. 1 in 2014 and Richmond, Va., is ranked No. 8 (up from 22 in 2013). The foundation considers pollen score, rates of allergy medicine use and number of board-certified allergists in the area.

“Only 15 percent of people have allergies,” Galos said. Their immune systems decide their bodies have a foreign invader and antibodies trigger allergic response, he explained.

Those symptoms may include runny nose, itchy eyes and cough, among others, said Dr. Margaret “Molly” O’Dell, acting health director for West Piedmont Health District.

Galos said he believes the late arrival of spring and the high pollen counts could make this a harsh tree-pollen season.

Pollen count is highest on sunny, windy days, so he advises people suffering allergic symptoms to not go outside until after 4 p.m. on those type days, as much as possible.

Galos recommended Nasonex, formerly a prescription medicine, as an over-the-counter medicine for allergy symptoms.

For people who need to see a doctor, shots and sublingual therapy are available, he said. The latter is an alternative to shots and involves giving a patient small doses of an allergen extract (in drop or tablet form) “under the tongue to boost tolerance to the substance and reduce symptoms,” according to the website of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction.

Mike Sporer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, said he couldn’t say whether this year’s pollen season might be one of the worst, but there have been some dry and windy conditions, leaving pollen free to float around. “It’s always tough this time of year,” he said.

He also advises people suffering allergy symptoms to stay inside on windy and dry days as much as possible.

John Ayers, associate professor of agribusiness, horticulture and viticulture at Patrick Henry Community College, said there’s a lot of pollen in the air now because of “a series of events that have come together now. It started probably last year with an abnormally wet spring that created a situation with very few acorns on the oak trees last year.” Several other natural events stemmed from or followed that, contributing to the pollen situation now, he added.

“We’ve got abundant pollen now,” Ayers said.

He said he thinks the tree pollen season is “a little worse” than usual, with more pollen sources at a given time. However, the season may be shorter than usual, he said.

“A lot of people are being bothered by it,” Ayers added.

“There’s quite a bit of pollen,” agreed Melanie W. Barrow, horticulture agent, unit coordinator for Virginia Cooperative Extension’s office for Henry County/Martinsville. “I don’t see this as out of the ordinary in terms of pollen count.” But people who have bad allergies might think that way, she said.

She said she has stopped-up sinus, head pressure, coughing and runny noise. “I wear contacts. I’ve had to take those out because it feels like sand in my eyes,” she said. She wears eyeglasses instead.

Her tips for sufferers of allergy symptoms include: After a rain is a good time to go outside, but when the wind is blowing is not a good time. Wear a paper mask and goggles when mowing. If you plan to walk in Jack Dalton Park the next two weeks, don’t use the pine tree-lined path.

“Every one of my employees who suffers with asthma has taken time off in the last two weeks,” said Dr. O’Dell of West Piedmont Health District.

She advises sufferers to consider not doing strenuous exercise outside if they feel their allergies are aggravated by pollen.


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