Early arrival of pollen gives area something to sneeze at


Garrett Eure, a greeter at Gators Car Wash, vacuums a car before a wash Monday. The back window of the car is covered with tree pollen.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.

If your car is covered in a dusty film and you’re sneezing more than usual, you’re not alone: The recent spring-like weather has driven up the local pollen count, causing allergies and allergy-like symptoms in many people, experts say.

Facts

To minimize your exposure to pollen:

- Wash your hands frequently and your body and hair daily to get the pollen off.
- Don't line-dry your clothes outside.
- Use a saline solution to clean pollen out your nose.
- Use an air purifier in the house and shut windows.
If you have symptoms of allergies or suffer from allergies:
- Use an antihistamine such as loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) or Fexofenadine (Allegra) .
- Use an over-the-counter nasal decongestant.
- Use eye drops.
- If symptoms persist, get tested for allergies.
- If you have flu-like symptoms, see a doctor for a nasal culture to determine if you have the flu or allergies.

“We have certainly seen more patients with increased allergy symptoms — earlier than previous years,” said Dr. Mercedes Pernice, an allergist with Southeastern Allergy and Asthma Specialists in Gainesville and Lake City.

Pernice said that in the past couple of weeks, people have come in with sneezing, running noses, itchy palettes, coughing and wheezing — symptoms that normally emerge in late February, with the arrival of spring.

But the 80-degree temperatures have sped up the allergy season, with the early blooming of trees and flowers. Since this coincides with the flu season, it’s important to distinguish flu symptoms from allergies, Pernice said.

“Since December, we’ve had a lot of patients with asthma come in, and they thought it was allergies, and they really had the flu, even if they already had the vaccine.”

Unlike allergies, the flu usually causes a high fever, chills and body aches, she added.

It is also important to distinguish people who suffer from allergies and those who are merely sensitive to the high pollen count in the air, Pernice said.

“When the pollen rises, it has an irritant effect in people with a lot of sensitivities to a lot of things.”

Children especially might develop a rhinovirus, an infection in the nose that causes the common cold, said Dr. Shih-Wen Huang, a pediatric allergist at Shands at the University of Florida. Huang said children in day care or nursery schools are particularly prone to the 120 sub-strains of the virus, which are contagious.

“Transmission is very high and often comes when the cold season is not over yet and the warm weather arrives early,” Huang said, adding that most people get some form of the virus since there are so many strains. So when the pollen count is high, they have symptoms such as a cough or a runny nose, he said.

You can treat the viruses the same way you treat an allergy, with good hygiene — hand washing and showers — by staying hydrated, and in some cases, using an antihistamine, Huang said.

Allergy sufferers additionally will have itchy eyes and sneezing spells that fluctuate with the pollen levels, and they should take even stricter hygiene measures, making sure they wash their hair daily and reduce outdoor activity, Huang said.

“The worst scenario is that the kids come straight home, go straight to their bedroom, lay on their bed and contaminate their whole bedroom. You have to educate their parents so that the kids come home and remove their clothes immediately and take a shower immediately and change clothes at least to minimize the problem.”

Huang said the only reprieve from the high pollen count would be a rain to wash the pollen away. Rain is forecast for later this week and over the weekend.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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