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Man, this winter just keeps on giving. Turns out those record-setting, lower-than-normal temperatures we just suffered through are now going to cause higher-than-normal pollen counts starting this month.
Or, as Susan Kosisky, chief microbiologist at the U.S. Army Centralized Allergen Extract Laboratory, told the Washington Post, "Grab your Kleenex. It's coming."
Evidently the long cold spell has given trees more time to build up pollen, which basically translates to lots of eye-watering, sneezy-wheezy misery as the weather warms and all that pent-up pollen is released.
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"Because the weather has been so cold, we sort of picture trees sitting with their hands on their hips saying 'All right, we'll wait, and then we'll pour on the pollen,'" Paul Ehrlich, M.D., an allergy/asthma specialist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital, told the New York Daily News.
Tree pollen levels ( click on this map) already have begun to climb in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as in Kansas and Oklahoma, where one allergist predicted a "super bloom" as temperatures rise.
If it's grass pollen you're worried about, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week approved a new pill to help with grass allergies, but it may not provide much relief this season: It won't be available until late spring, NPR reports.
Even so, the pill, called Oralair, is a big step forward in replacing allergy shots with medication. It contains tiny amounts of freeze-dried extracts of five grasses, and it works the way the shots do, by helping the body gradually become accustomed to the allergens. The pill is taken once a day and held under the tongue until it dissolves.
According to the FDA, Oralair must be started four months before the start of grass-pollen season and continued throughout the season. It's suitable for those ages 10 to 65, but the first dose must be taken in a health care provider's office to be sure the medicine doesn't trigger an allergic reaction.
If you're allergic to other things as well, however-such as tree pollen, ragweed, cats or mold-the new pill won't help with those, David Lang, M.D., head of allergy/immunology with the Cleveland Clinic's Respiratory Institute, said in an email. The symptoms from those allergens "can be expected to continue."
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So what can you do to minimize your misery this spring? Lang and other allergy experts have these suggestions.
- Start taking medications before allergy season begins. Ask your doctor about taking over-the-counter, nonsedating antihistamines (such as Claritin and Zyrtec), soothing eyedrops and nasal steroid sprays, like Nasacort and Rhinocort, which can reduce nasal inflammation. Continue to take them daily once the season is underway.
- Reduce your time outside when pollen counts are high. If you have to do yard work, wear a mask, hat and dark glasses to help block airborne pollen.
- Don't bring outside pollen inside. If you've been outside for a while, shower, wash your hair and change your clothes when you come home. (And leave your shoes at the front door, too.) Keep windows closed, as well.
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