Pollen with an Attitude and a Long, Warm Winter Set Up Torturous St. Louis Allergy Season

By Jackson, Harry, Jr. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 27, 2017 | Go to article overview

Pollen with an Attitude and a Long, Warm Winter Set Up Torturous St. Louis Allergy Season


Jackson, Harry, Jr., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Not only will pollen allergies be around longer this year, research has found some tree pollen that is getting better at making people miserable.

Local allergists say the warm winter appears to be creating a prolonged tree allergy season. People with symptoms have been showing up in doctors' offices since mid-January, or even sooner. In many cases, because it's winter, people thought they had colds but were suffering early symptoms caused by breathing tree pollen.

Those who suffer from pollen allergies know this means a longer season of misery, medicine, itching, coughing, sneezing and congestion.

And some trees are spreading pollen that is better at making people miserable than the traditional varieties. The discovery is recent but real, said Dr. Mark S. Dykewicz, a SLUCare allergist and professor at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

"Research is showing that pollen from trees that are closer to highways have pollen higher in levels of proteins, which cause the allergic reactions," Dykewicz said. Proteins are what trigger the human body's allergy reactions, and these trees spit out a more aggressive variety, he said.

So far there's no evidence that people will need any different sort of medication to keep the symptoms under control, he said. But questions about the findings remain, including how bad it can get.

LONGER SEASON

Allergies occur when your body's immune system attacks certain organs. The attack requires a trigger. In the case of pollen/mold allergies, pollen and mold enter your nose, land somewhere, and your immune system attacks the surrounding tissue. Other respiratory allergies include dust mites, dust, roach parts, pet dander and whatever mice leave laying around. People can be allergic to anything with a protein.

At this point, the only relief is to avoid the allergen or take medicine. Close yourself in your house, close the windows and keep the air conditioner filters changed and clean. Same for being in the car, says Dr. Jennifer Monroy, an allergist with Washington University. Frankly, toughing it out without medicine can lead to respiratory infections, the experts said.

Dykewicz said the temperatures and conditions like this year's created longer pollinating seasons. There's been no sustained cold spell, so trees awakened early.

"I get asked a lot if this is how it's going to be [from now on]," he said. "There's no way to tell."

In addition, in recent weeks there's been no rain to reduce pollen and mold counts. The trees are healthy, and conditions also are ideal for mold spores.

The National Weather Service website says the next two weeks will be warmer than average.

AVOIDING ALLERGIES

Here are tips for avoiding or dealing with allergies:

Be clean * After closing off access to pollen, wipe off your face and wash your hands frequently, the allergists said. …

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