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Allergy Season is Expected to be Severe

May 18, 2010

Intermittent Rains Have Helped to Increase Pollen Levels

If you are sniffling, sneezing and wheezing your way through the day, you may already know allergy season is here. You might want to brace yourself, because many experts are predicting a severe allergy season this year.

"It has been a bad allergy season already," said Dr. Jeffrey Kishiyama, an allergist and immunologist on staff at Washington Hospital. "The rain has thrown a wrench into things. The on again, off again nature of the rain this spring has caused pollen levels to be quite high."

While there are many outdoor allergens that are problematic year round, typically spring is considered to be allergy season. It generally begins in February and peaks in May, when pollen counts tend to be highest.

Plants produce microscopic pollen grains in order to reproduce. These tiny particles are released from trees, weeds and grasses. The pollen is transported by insects or the wind, which means there is plenty of it floating through the air.

"It’s not just in your yard; the pollen is blowing off the hills surrounding Fremont," Kishiyama said. "Grass pollen is particularly problematic this time of year. Northern California has the highest grass pollen counts in the nation."

He said oak, sycamore and mulberry tree pollens are also at elevated levels, and olive tree pollen is just starting to become a problem. People who are allergic to any of these pollens are likely to be feeling the effects.

"We see a lot of people who are allergic to things like dust mites, animal dander and mold and now they are feeling the effects," Kishiyama said. "They may not have been bothered enough by their allergies to need daily medication, but now the daily exposure to pollen has intensified their allergic responses, and they are finding they need some relief. The allergy season amplifies everything for them."

Medication Can Help

Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to reduce the symptoms associated with allergies. Antihistamines are available over the counter and block the effect of histamines, which the body produces during an allergic reaction.

"Most people end up in my office because antihistamines aren’t working for them," Kishiyama said. "By the time they get to a specialist, they may have even tried prescription medications."

He prescribes a lot of topical treatments for his patients like eye drops and nasal sprays.

"With topical treatments, you can get high concentrations of medicine to the areas that need them with much less exposure to the rest of the body," he explained. "With topical treatments, there is also less risk for drug interactions."

Kishiyama also treats a number of patients with asthma who suffer more during allergy season. Asthma is chronic lung disease that causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation. For those with allergic asthma, inhaling pollen triggers asthma symptoms, which can be mild to severe, and even life-threatening.

"The fact is there are many levels of severity with asthma," he said. "The treatment plan has to be individualized. The good news is a number of new medications have been developed in recent years that have provided us with a better set of tools for controlling asthma symptoms."

Kishiyama added that several quality of life surveys have shown that for many, allergies affect quality of life more than asthma, which he finds surprising because asthma is a life-threatening chronic disease.

"I suppose the inability to concentrate and lack of energy that comes with allergies really impact people’s day-to-day lives," he said. "But at least with seasonal allergies, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once we make it to the fourth of July, pollen counts will be reduced, and those with seasonal allergies should feel a lot better."

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