WASHINGTON – Allergists are warning Maryland residents to brace for a “horrific” allergy season, with high pollen counts expected as a result of last year’s rains.
“Last summer’s rainfall meant that the trees grew luxuriously, and they produced a lot of buds,” said Dr. John Bacon, an allergist at St. Joseph Medical Center. “Combined with a relatively mild winter, you are setting the stage for a horrific, spring pollen season.”
Dr. James Banks, the vice president of the Maryland Asthma/Allergy Society, said rain is the biggest factor in determining what kind of allergy season it will be — and last year saw record rainfall.
The 62 total inches of rain that fell in the state during 2003 was 16 inches above the 10-year-average rainfall and 20 inches more than fell in the drought year of 2002, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
What most people do not know, said Banks, is that the majority of pollen comes from trees not flowers.
“Oak pollinates typically during the second half of April. Before oak is maple and then birch,” said Banks. “Right as oak starts winding down, the baton gets passed to grass.”
The tree pollen season in Maryland goes from February to June, while the grass pollen season occurs between the months of May and August, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.
The academy said that allergy diseases affect nearly one in every five Americans, and allergic diseases are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States.
Neither Banks nor Bacon could say how many Marylanders suffer from allergies, but they said it probably mirrors the national numbers.
“Now that the weather has warmed up, we’re starting to get the phone calls,” Bacon said. “Things are almost out of control by mid-April.”
Common allergic reactions are sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes, Banks said. The general rule is that constant rain clears the air of pollen, but if the season produces only sporadic thunderstorms it can actually make things worse, Bacon said.
“If you have a thunderstorm, the pollen counts go up because you have a lot of turbulent winds,” Bacon said.
While this is a hectic time of year, Bacon said that his office is busy year round, since people still have to deal with indoor allergens like dust mite and particles from mice and cockroach droppings.
Bacon, himself, is patient as well as a doctor. He said he is allergic mainly to dust and other indoor allergens.
“You’ll find most allergists have allergies,” Bacon said.
-30- CNS 03-26-04