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Nothing to Sneeze At

Learning the signs and symptoms of allergies to tree pollen can help you avert secondary health problems.

While warmer weather turns our thoughts to gardening and spring blossoms, allergy sufferers often head indoors away from the pollen. That, says Richard F. Lockey, Director, Division of Allergy and Immunology at USF Health, can be a good course of action.

“For Floridians, oak trees which pollinate from February through early April are the main culprit,” Lockey said. “There are other trees that cause problems - bayberry, cypress, cedar and Australian pine, but oak deposits a large amount of the pollen particles which cause our allergies this time of year.”

Cindy Bidwell, a physician assistant at Bayside Family Care in St. Petersburg, Fla. concurs. She thinks early intervention is a critical tool.

“I tell our patients their symptoms from tree pollen will peak from Valentine’s Day until their taxes are due,” she said. “I also tell them to start their antihistamines and nasal sprays in late January so when the pollen hits, the medication is already in their system.”

Florida has about 11 species of oak trees, which pollinate via wind versus insects. That means there are a lot of yellow pollen dust clouds floating around. Experts measure pollen by particles per cubic meters of air and currently, the count is above 2,000. According to the National Weather Service, that's already in the high range. Since the peak is still several weeks away, counts may jump up to about 6,000. You can log on to get the pollen count for each Florida city by checking out this website.

Lockey, who serves as president of the World Allergy Organization said allergies can make you susceptible to secondary respiratory problems, such as chronic sinusitis. He also says the effects of long-term symptoms can be devastating on many levels.

“If you can’t breathe, it will eventually affect your work, social and marital relationships,” he said. “It can also lead to sleep apnea, a disturbance that can affect your entire life,” Lockey said.

Yet according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, one out of four Americans suffers from allergies. Lockey offered these tips:

  • Recognize symptoms that are continuous and not episodic (lasting more than five days). Continuous symptoms likely mean you have allergies versus a cold.
  • Try over-the-counter medications such as decongestants and antihistamines for relief, or nasal irrigation with a Neti Pot. For more information check out WebMD
  • See a physician if symptoms persist – they have stronger medications in their arsenal.
  • Try keeping windows and doors shut and running the air conditioning at home and in your car
  • “W.O.D.”- wait out the disease till the pollen count decreases at the end of March to early April.

Most allergy sufferers will tell you summer is the best time of year in Florida, while spring and fall can be challenging. That’s because we live in a subtropical climate where something is always blooming.

 “There’s no reason to let allergies and related upper respiratory diseases debilitate you,” Lockey said, noting that physicians have an array of treatments and medicines that can bring relief.

That’s good news since five percent of Americans also suffer from asthma, a syndrome that includes inflammation of the lungs and airway. 

But Lockey offers hope for asthma patients.

“Asthma is the most treatable of all the chronic diseases,” he said.

He said  it’s also been gratifying to see advances in allergy and immunology which in turn, have meant an improvement in the quality of life for allergy and asthma patients. Currently, he’s working on a grant through the National Institutes of Health to determine if allergy problems in the elderly are different or more complex than in younger patients. He also said that 10 years ago, deaths from asthma were on the rise, but they’ve  been steadily declining.

 “I’m delighted to help people live a more useful, healthy and happy life,” he said. offering his department's website as a resource.

That relief is available bodes well for those suffering with itchy, watery eyes, sneezing bouts, coughing spells and other respiratory problems. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Daniel James Scott March 02, 2011 at 01:39 PM
I have found that a daily Claritin is required to live in Florida. Nice Article!
sandy March 03, 2011 at 12:51 AM
Awesome informative article. Hits home. Great photos! SP

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