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Old 04-27-2006, 07:40 PM
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Default New Englanders Suffer Worse Allergy Season In Years

Northeast hit hardest, but whole country suffering, experts say
By E.J. Mundell, HealthDay Reporter

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THURSDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- April showers bring May flowers, but this year they've also brought a bumper crop of grass, ragweed and early-budding trees that means misery to millions of allergic Americans.

Experts across the country say they are recording the highest pollen counts they've seen in a decade. And while the Southeast usually gets slammed the hardest when it comes to airborne allergens, this season it may be Yankees who are suffering the most.

"I looked at the total pollen counts for this season compared to last, and, at this point, we have already reached 80-90 percent of what we saw for the entire season last year," said Albany, N.Y.-based allergy specialist Dr. David Shulan, a spokesman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI).

The culprit: a mild, wet winter and early spring, plus unusually warm days.

"We have seen an early and aggressive allergy season, including seasonal pollens and mold spores," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a Long Island-based allergist and vice-chairman of AAAAI's Public Education Committee.

Shulan agreed. "The buds have been ready to burst, and when we have these warm days, the pollen counts have been just wild," he said.

According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, which estimates that 50 million Americans are impacted by allergies, the top 10 worst cities to be in right now, in terms of airborne allergens, are:

* Hartford, Conn.
* Greenville, S.C.
* Boston
* Detroit
* Orlando, Fla.
* Knoxville, Tenn.
* Omaha, Neb.
* Sacramento, Calif.
* Washington, D.C.
* Baltimore

There are steps the allergic can take to minimize the sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes that plague them this season. One is obvious: Avoid the great outdoors. That doesn't mean sealing yourself indoors 24/7, experts said, but some common-sense tips might help.

"First off, get someone else to help you with yard chores -- find someone in the family who's not allergic to do the mowing, for example," said Dr. Sandra McMahan, a senior staff physician specializing in pediatric allergy at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas.

Pollen counts are always highest in the morning, so try and plan outdoor activities for the afternoon or evening whenever possible. Rain tends to drive allergens out of the air, so planning activities for just after a good rain makes sense, too. "The patient will frequently feel better for a day or so after a rainstorm, because there's less pollen blowing around," said McMahan, who is also an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Texas A & M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

All the experts stressed that keeping windows closed and using air conditioning -- even when the weather is pleasant outside -- can cut the misery for allergic individuals while they're at home.

But what about that perennial springtime passion, gardening? Bassett said green-thumbed Americans can still enjoy their hobby, despite allergies, as long as they follow a few simple steps.

First off, he said, wear gloves and a pollen mask while outside, and work on relatively humid, windless days. Keep soils moist and gardens free of flowering weeds. Shower and shampoo after you come back inside. Rinse off glasses after gardening and keep gardening clothing away from the bedroom.

Bassett also advised against planting the following high-allergen species: amaranthus, crocus, elderberry, juniper, peony, poppy and privet. Some low-allergen alternatives include azalea, begonia, bougainvillea, daisy, dahlia, gladiola, iris, irish moss, marigold, orchids, snapdragon, sunflowers, tulips, violets and zinnias.

And don't forget the secret sex lives of plants: "Planting female trees in one's own yard will attract and then trap incoming airborne pollen from male plants," Bassett warned.

The experts also advised that people back up all of these tips with medication.

"Medications are much better now than they were in the past," McMahan said. "We have the nonsedating antihistamines, which are very helpful and much safer to use. One -- loratadine, generic Claritin -- is now available over-the-counter." There's also an antihistamine nasal spray, Astelin, available by prescription, he added

Besides these, there are what Shulan called the "heavy hitters" -- nasal steroids such as Flonase (now available in a cheaper generic form) as well as Rhinocort, Nasacort and Nasonex.

"Remember though, these drugs take time to start working -- it make take up to two weeks for them to take full effect, although you'll notice some relief in a day or two," Shulan said. "With the nasal steroids, you have to use them regularly throughout the season," he added

So, with proper planning and the right pharmaceuticals, most Americans should be able to cope with even this year's tough allergy season.

But they may have to be patient.

"Here in Albany, the trees start acting up from late March going into June, then the grass takes over in late May, peaking in June and early July," Shulan said. "That should go right through summer till it tapers off sometime in September."

More information

For much more on seasonal allergies, head to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
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