Experts: Indiana's allergy season worse than usual this year

Experts: Indiana's allergy season worse than usual this year


People are starting to see some relief from the constant sneezing, itchy eyes and runny noses that came with a bad allergy season in the spring.

Allergy season has been worse than previous years because of pollen, experts say.

Trees usually bloom and release pollen in stages around late February and early March. This year, the weather was too cold; it was still snowing in April.

“In May, every tree was still out there pollinating. Oak, pine, maple,” said Dr. Emma McCormack of Allergy and Asthma of Southern Indiana. “Every tree that pollinates in February was still playing catch-up in May.”

Trees didn’t begin to release pollen until around the second week of April. On top of that, grass started pollinating at the same time. The spring pollen carried into early June, and patients are finally getting some relief, McCormack said.

Pollen is collected on the roof of IU Health Bloomington Hospital each morning and is then inspected underneath a microscope to estimate pollen counts.

From June 4-5, Bloomington had the highest pollen counts in the nation.

“In 15 years, we’ve never had a delayed season like that,” McCormack said.

How is pollen count determined?

Bloomington is one of three places in the state, along with Fort Wayne and South Bend, that use a Burkard Volumetric Spore Sampler to determine pollen count.

The device stands on the roof of IU Health Bloomington Hospital. Three days a week nurse Connie Sharp drives from Allergy and Asthma of Southern Indiana to the hospital. It takes her six minutes to walk up to the roof and to retrieve the previous day’s data and replace the microscope slide.

The slide goes into the middle of the spore sampler, where air is pulled into a small quarter-sized slot. The air carries pollen, which adheres to the slide.

Sharp has been collecting samples for three years. Another nurse will replace a wheel mechanism that contains a film used to measure pollen over the weekend.

Back in the lab, pollen type and amount is counted and used to estimate the day’s pollen count.

Why do I have seasonal allergies?

A patient can inherit an atopic gene from their parents, McCormack said. This gene carries three possible conditions — allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies), atopic dermatitis and asthma.

The three conditions are linked. Most people only have one, but allergic rhinitis can develop into having all three conditions, McCormack said.

“It was tough for asthmatics to handle this past spring as well,” McCormack said.

However, if a patient keeps allergic rhinitis symptoms under control, asthma symptoms will lessen.

How do seasonal allergies work?

When pollen enters the nose, it can trigger a response from the immune system. According to research from Desentum, a biopharmaceutical research company, the body mistakes pollen as harmful and begins a series of steps to fight it.

A type of white blood cells, B-cells, inside the nasal passage can encounter pollen and mistake it for a dangerous intruder.

The white blood cells produce antibodies, which are small Y-shaped proteins designed to lock onto a specific threat, in this case, pollen.

The antibodies hold onto white blood cells, called mast cells and basophils. Next time pollen enters the nose, these stronger antibodies will recognize the pollen, lock onto it, and cause those white blood cells to rupture.

The white blood cells are filled with histamine, and that’s why they break open. Histamine is a chemical the body uses to fight infections through the inflammatory response. That response is what causes blood vessels to expand and tissue to become warm and swollen. It’s uncomfortable but is a sign the body is trying to heal.

Sometimes, when a large amount of histamine is released in response to a false threat, symptoms occur, like itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose and frequent sneezing.

Is it allergies or a cold?

Most colds are viruses and last three to 10 days.

An allergist can tell the difference just by a quick look up the nose.

If it’s red, it’s an infection. If it’s swollen and pale, it’s venous congestion.

Patients can’t perform a physical exam on themselves, McCormack said. However, they should pay attention to the time span of their illness.

If a patient is sick longer than 10 days or is sick around the same month every year, she said, that’s a sign it’s allergic rhinitis instead of the common cold.

How can you get some relief?

First, patients need to recognize there’s a problem in order to learn what to avoid and what treatment is possible, McCormack said.

“Know what you need to avoid — it’s a big impact,” she said. “If you have problems outside, you need to know how to get it out of the inside.”

She said medical management of allergies has become cheaper and easier over the years. Low-sedating antihistamines are available in many generic forms, as well as such brand names as Allegra and Zyrtec.

“I call the nose the gatekeeper of all the problems,” McCormack said.

To get the best relief, allergy sufferers need to focus on prevention. She said nasal sprays such as Flonase and Rhinocort are often helpful.

“The problem with them is that people have to be patient,” she said. “If you start feeling better and do it randomly, you’re not getting the benefit.”

She said nasal sprays are non-habit forming and help as a decongestant. They also go right to the nose, unlike pills, which travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.

However, once patients start to feel better, they still must keep using the spray as a preventive measure.

Source: Chicago Tribune


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