But expert says mild weather also can shorten season
By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
Allergy sufferers likely know by now that tree-pollen season started early this year, doctors and pharmacists say.
Experts blame a mild winter followed by an early arrival of unseasonably warm temperatures for the prevalence of pollen two weeks ahead of normal.
Pollen is evident on trees in the State Arboretum of Virginia in White Post, where some workers recall seeing clouds of the spores drifting in the breeze on the grounds around the Blandy Experimental Farm.
"As soon as it warms up there's a race for the trees to get their pollen out there -- the things that are wind pollinated -- to get the pollen out there before there are leaves on the trees because the leaves interfere with the pollen's ability to fly through the air and hit their target," T'ai Roulston, curator of the State Arboretum, said this week. "So there's a big emphasis on getting pollen out before leaves."
Roulston, also an associate professor with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, acknowledged the early pollen releases likely caught those people with allergies by surprise.
"It gets the early jump and as warm as it is now it probably will get to be pretty severe," Roulston warned.
But the curator pointed out a bright side.
"The one thing that can happen is that if it stays really warm, it can shorten the pollen season a little bit because it all comes out quickly rather than a little bit day in day out," Roulston said. "So it'll be fast and furious but if it stays warm it'll be shorter."
Roulston noted he has some mild allergies but knows many people who started feeling the effects early.
"It definitely makes you sneeze," said Carrie Whitacre, assistant curator at the arboretum, as she cleared brush from flower beds. "All of us are starting to and I never had that problem until I started working here. I think it might just be the over abundance of conifers that I'm not used to being around."
Whitacre hasn't resorted to regular use of allergy medication but said she sometimes takes a Benadryl to quell the symptoms.
"I just deal with the sneezy fits, eyes are a little itchy but eventually it gets better," Whitacre said.
But many people with more serious allergies or at least a tendency to medicate more regularly went to pharmacies for their remedies earlier than usual.
"This whole thing started early, so early, and everybody's coming in with the runny nose and the runny eyes, coughing and sneezing," Ann Palmer, a pharmacist at Lantz's Pharmacy in Stephens City, said Friday. "We weren't expecting to see it so soon ... But because there wasn't a freeze this year there's a lot of things blossoming way ahead of time."
Cortisone nasal sprays remain popular among sufferers looking for prescription remedies, according to Palmer. Many antihistamines now are available over the counter though stronger, sometimes more effective, medications usually require a prescription, she added.
The high cost of some medications rarely stops sufferers.
"There hasn't been too many complaints," Palmer said. "I think they're more interested in relief. Some are quite willing to spend quite a bit more just to get the relief, too."
When self-medication doesn't work, sufferers often see the family doctor or a specialist. Dr. Robert McQueen, one of two specialiists at the Asthma & Allergy Center in Winchester, noted the season began about two weeks earlier this year. The pollen season usually starts in the last week of March.
"They knew it was coming, they just didn't know it was coming this soon," McQueen said.
Sufferers likely go through "trial and error" with antihistamines to see what works best, according to the doctor.
But McQueen noted the cost of medicine may prompt some allergy sufferers to ride out their symptoms.
"The economy the way it is some people might put it off as long as they can," McQueen said.
Those people with allergies may have mistaken reactions to pollen for cold symptoms, the doctor said. But if the symptoms such as a runny nose lasts longer than 10 days, the person may have a pollen allergy, according to McQueen. The doctor explained that mucous which appears clear for three weeks likely means the person has an allergy. If the mucous turns green or yellow and the person has a fever, that might be a sign of another illness and McQueen recommended he or she see a doctor.
McQueen warned sufferers to expect the season to worsen with the peak to hit in early April.