High pollen count spurs allergies

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

To hear Karen Anderson tell it, she's pretty much a sneeze waiting to happen.

"I'm allergic to pretty much everything you breathe in the air," she said. "And people who don't have allergies don't have a clue about how bad allergies are."

For Anderson -- and some of the patients she sees as a Cape Girardeau allergy nurse -- when pollen counts get high, the quality of living gets low.

"It sucks," she said, laughing. "It can make you where you don't feel like getting up, you don't want to go to work. All you want to do is stay in bed and sleep."

More Americans than ever say they have allergies. An estimated 50 million Americans suffer with the symptoms: coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and scratchy throats. In severe cases, allergies can also result in rashes, hives, lower blood pressure, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks and even death.

Allergy problems are traditionally thought to be most prevalent in spring and fall, but area medical workers say various pollens are waiting around all year just to find their way into a person's system.

"Allergies are always present," said Lorilea Johnson, a nurse practitioner at Southeast Missouri Hospital's ER Express. "This is still an allergy season even though it's summer."

According to pollen.com, the predominant pollens in Cape Girardeau this week are grass and the weeds chenopod (pigweed and goosefoot) and nettle, perennials with upright fibrous stems.

The three-day forecast calls for a pollen rating between 7.3 and 9.6, which is in pollen.com's medium high to high range. That high a rating tends to affect a large number people, the Web site says. The counts are supposed to increase later this week until hitting a 9.1 out of 10 rating on Thursday.

The big one -- ragweed -- is just around the corner, according to Dr. Chris Jung, a Cape Girardeau physician and ear, nose and throat specialist. Ragweed usually hits the second or third week of August, he said.

"That's the thing more people have a problem with than anything else," he said. "With a lot of wind, it can blow for miles around. That's really the peak thing until we get a frost."

Those with mild symptoms can treat themselves with over-the-counter medications like the antihistamine Claritin, Jung said. For more serious sufferers, prescription medicines such as nasal steroids or an allergy shot may do the trick.

Jung's advice: If you can, stay indoors.

"Avoid being outside if you can," he said. "The counts may be lower in the morning when it's cooler, so if you have to do things outside, do it then."

Also, he said, if allergy sufferers know they have to go outside they should take an antihistamine beforehand.

"If they wait until they are really suffering, then it gets difficult," he said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

Allergy sufferers can minimize the effects of pollen by:

* Using air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air.

* Minimizing outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. Peak pollen times are usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

* Keeping car windows up when traveling.

* Staying indoors when the humidity is high and on windy days when dust and pollen are blown about.

* Taking a shower after spending time outside because pollen can collect on the skin and hair.

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Allergies

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