It’s not your imagination: Your allergies are getting worse. The nose is runnier, the eyes are itchier, the headaches more severe.
And allergy season? It’s getting longer. What used to run between April to June now stretches into a full baseball season.
You can blame it on global warming, as scientists have done, or you can blame it on where you live — the so-called “pollen capital” that is the Philadelphia/South Jersey region.
But know this: If you have allergies, the season is just beginning. Get indoors. Get your prescriptions filled. Or be ready to suffer.
“Suddenly the pollen is hitting,” said Dr. Nirmala Basavanand, an allergist with an office in Somers Point. “Everybody is suffering.”
This week’s high pollen count was an example of what people may expect in coming weeks. Pollen-tracking website Pollen.com said Thursday’s pollen count, which measures the amount of pollen in the air on any given day, was “high” with a 11.7 rating of a possible 12 in Somers Point.
Throughout southern New Jersey, similar pollen counts this week indicated itchy eyes and lots of sneezing as Cape May and Ocean counties had pollen counts around 12. Things were a little better in Cumberland County with a pollen count a little shy of 11.
Dr. Mahendra Dadhania, an allergist with an office in Cape May Court House said he has not seen an overwhelming increase in the number of patients, but when he does see a new patient he is seeing severe symptoms.
“The newer patients are starting out with very severe symptoms right away,” Dadhania said.
Normally, a new patient will have the traditional allergy symptoms of a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. But he said patients this season — compared with his previous 15 years’ work — are worse. Dadhania said there are several reasons a person can develop allergies after years of not having them. In addition to a rapid change in weather — shifts from warm, cold and rain — Dadhania said global warming is contributing to the amount of pollen in the air.
Season, climate change
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the results of a federal study in March that supports doctors’ fears that allergy season is strengthening. The report, which was completed with the help of several universities, including Rutgers, attributes longer allergy season to global warming.
“Climate change appears to be associated with early pollen seasons that last longer causing more people to suffer from pollen-induced allergies,” said Leonard Bielort, a specialist in allergy and immunology with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers.
The study’s findings were published in February and confirm pollen from ragweed has longer staying power now than it did in 1995.
“Regretfully, the changes that we are seeing with weather patterns set the stage for an increasing number of patients with allergies. Those with allergies already will note increasing symptoms that may lead to increased hospital and emergency room admissions,” Bielort said in a release.
Dadhania said patients around Philadelphia and parts of southern New Jersey may also feel as if their symptoms have gotten worse because the region is considered a pollen “capital” by doctors and scientists.
Studies Dadhania has seen show the region is full of allergy sufferers. This was determined by examination of the number of sufferers taking over-the-counter medicine, the pollen count and the amount of patients who got a doctor for medical consultation, he said.
Wind, temperatures, rainfall and the previous summer season all influence how each spring is for sufferers. Currently, maple, cedar, juniper, poplar, aspen and cottonwood trees are the main contributors to pollen levels in the area.
Hell on earth
The sun shining and flowers blooming may be one’s definition of heaven on earth. For allergy sufferers such as Lenora McFadden, of Mays Landing, that sort of springtime weather is the enemy.
“Mainly my eyes feel funny,” McFadden said as she sorted through the hundreds of varieties of flowers at Home Depot on the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township.
Monday’s sunshine and 60-degree weather was the perfect day for McFadden and others to be outside and exposed to allergens.
“I just suffer through it, to tell you the truth,” McFadden said. “Sometimes I put a mask on.”
Although people may rely on over-the-counter medicines to combat their allergies, others go to doctors to treat the most severe of the symptoms.
Basavanand said she advises all allergy sufferers to seek medical consultation when they feel the beginning symptoms of allergies.
She said without seeing a doctor people often take and combine medications without knowing the negative side effects. For example, a person’s blood pressure can increase with the combination of some medications.
Basavanand said some allergens are located nationwide, but others are specific to a region. That means a grass found in southern New Jersey may not affect allergy sufferers in the northern section of the state.
She said sufferers should sleep with their windows closed at night, because pollen will usually drift inside in the morning hours, and should keep their air conditioners on. The conditioners will filter out pollen, she said.
Andy Parker, owner of Aire Serv Heating and Cooling in Egg Harbor Township, said people can also avoid an increased energy bill by simply turning the home’s air system fan on. He said the fan can be turned on, without activating the heating or cooling component, and will also filter the home.
“ Every time somebody comes from the outside into the home they bring the outside with them,” Parker said.
Parker said to get the best allergen filtration during the peak of allergy season, people should check their system filter often and replace it as needed.
Even though Basavanand said she expects the season to be difficult for allergy management, local residents said they still could not part from their favorite outdoor activities.
Sally Carmen, of Northfield, said she takes medication every day to keep her sneezing in check both at home and at work. Carmen, known as “Greenhouse Sally,” works at Bob’s Garden Center in Egg Harbor Township.
“I have bad allergies,” Carmen said as she watered plants at the garden center. “I’m allergic to everything.”
No matter how bad it can get, she said she would never stop working in the garden.
“Flowers and plants are my life,” she said, adding she spent the winter yearning to be outside weeding and planting new shrubberies around her home. “I just can’t wait.”
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