Allergists warn area may be hit hard

Local,Karl B. Hille

Some pollen allergy sufferers already are giving spring a tearful hello as tree pollen counts climb into the hundreds. But brace yourself for more. This could be a nasty allergy season, allergists warn.

Pollinating trees are budding earlier, and recent rains that have scrubbed pollen from the air also have given the trees what they need to produce more, said Dr. Duane Gels, an allergist with Annapolis Allergy and Asthma who is also on staff at the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"Each year it?s a little different," Gels said. "Each species has its own timing. You can see a delay in some early plants and speeding up of some later pollinators and have a real bad season."

The first pollinators are blooming 10 days earlier than they did 30 years ago, according to an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The phenomenon, called "season creep," is lengthening the growing season for many pollen-producing plants.

Right now pollen counts have started rising from 50 or below to 161, according to Owings Mills-based Golden and Matz allergy practice. Annapolis Allergy and Asthma reported 157. They measure the number of pollen grains collected on a silicon-coated, spinning steel rod over a 24-hour period.

"Every year it gets over 1,500 at least once," Gels said. The good news is "there?s not any reason you should go on suffering."

Your best bet is to treat it as soon as possible, he said. Repeated exposure to an allergen can create a "priming" reaction, where it takes less and less of the irritant to induce misery.

For those who can?t get relief over the counter, there are prescription nasal steroid sprays ? some of which can relieve eye symptoms too.

If all noninvasive remedies fail, there are allergy shots.

"Allergy injections are not just another form of allergy medication," said AAMC allergist Rachel Howland. "A series of allergy shots over a period of time desensitizes the allergic response to allergens. The ultimate goal of allergy shots is to alter the immune system so the person is no longer allergic."

Allergy shots are formulated for the individual by an allergy test, where extracts of specific allergens are applied to the skin to measure the body?s reaction, Gels said. If you are allergic to oak and ragweed pollen, the shots are formulated to tone down your body?s response to those specific irritants.

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