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Sneezing? Itchy eyes? Join the crowd

Pollen counts are high, the experts say, but you may already know that.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published March 8, 2006


 

It's not the worst allergy season ever.

But don't tell that to the throngs of itchy-eyed, thick-headed sufferers around the Tampa Bay area.

"Every year you hear somebody say it's the worst ever," said Dr. Richard Lockey, the director of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Pollen counts are high, reaching almost 10,000 particles per cubic meter in some spots, but they always are at this time of year, Lockey said.

The chief culprit is oak tree pollen, with a few different species in peak bloom. And it's probably not going to taper off until the middle of April.

In the meantime, experts advise that allergy sufferers stay indoors with the air conditioning on, take antihistamines or, in severe cases of allergic reactions, see their doctors.

Lockey said everyone has some genetic predisposition to allergies, but not everyone experiences symptoms. Some people can actually develop allergies.

"You have to have the right exposure and the right genes," he said, adding that no one has figured out all the circumstances that can develop allergies.

Studies have shown that genetically identical twins in different environments can show different reactions because of what they encounter.

Merely getting sick at the wrong time can push someone into having an allergy.

"We know that viruses play a role in turning on allergies," Lockey said. Colds and reactions to pollution can also aggravate allergies.

People who are genuinely allergic certainly know it now.

With oak trees cranking out flowers, called catkins, and no rain to clean the air, lots of people are having severe reactions.

"Most of our calls are from people who know their threshholds and ask about the counts," said Cheryl Small, executive director of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's Florida chapter in Tampa.

She said four million Floridians have severe allergic diseases "but they can't afford medicine all the time, so they check when to stay inside."

Allergies also exacerbate asthma, Small said, so there can be serious complications. She said most of the calls she fields are from newcomers to Florida.

Some practical advice works, too, said Dr. Mary Jelks, retired pediatric allergist in Sarasota who conducts pollen counts for health agencies.

She said trees start to bloom as soon as the sun hits them, and that continues until early afternoon.

"Jogging early in the morning is probably not the best thing to do," she said. Outdoor activity in the evening is wisest, she said. Days with a sea breeze also are less intense for allergy sufferers.

-- Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 727-892-2271 or by participating in itsyourtimes.com

[Last modified March 8, 2006, 19:24:04]


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