An early start to allergy season

  • Mon Mar 15th, 2010 10:07am
  • News

By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer

Nope, it’s not your imagination. Tree pollens have hit earlier this year.

Patients are flocking to area clinics, seeking relief from runny noses, itchy eyes and stuffy heads caused by tree allergies.

“Based on what we know, it sounds like the mild winter and unexpected warmer air has really flared the trees,” said Dr. David Naimi, of the Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center, which has offices in Everett and throughout the Puget Sound region. Patients have been coming in for the past three weeks complaining of nasal and eye problems caused by allergies, and with some patients, an increase of asthma symptoms.

Spring allergies are caused by a pollen of several trees, including alder, juniper, birch and cedar.

Alder pollens began spreading a little earlier this year than in recent years, due to the mild winter and warmer temperatures, Naimi said.

Alder and birch send huge amounts of pollen into the air, said Dr. Paul McBride, who specializes in treating allergy and asthma patients at The Everett Clinic.

“Alder and birch are unique. They have those tassels hanging down,” McBride said.

Each tassel has the pollen equivalent of a small tree, he said. “There’s no place that has alder and birch like we do.”

Patients first began seeking treatment during January, McBride said.

“We had a very unusual winter,” he said. “We sort of skipped January and went right to tree season.”

Pollen levels are earlier and higher than normal, he said. “As soon as people get miserable, they start showing up.”

Pollen levels were hitting peaks until recent rains helped wash the air, McBride added.

Naimi said people shouldn’t take the onset of pollen season lightly. Allergies can affect children’s classroom performance and the productivity of adults, cause overall feelings of fatigue and allergy-related problems with sleeping.

Sue Yorio of Marysville said she knows the symptoms of allergies well. For years after moving here from the San Francisco Bay area, she said she was dogged by allergies.

Although she had problems all year long, she said she came to dread spring.

“You feel fogged over,” she said. “Drowsy, no energy, hard to focus. Of course, the headaches and pressure.”

When asked if alder, cedar or juniper affected her most she said: “You have a list, you can check it all off. All the trees I’m allergic to. It’s making me itch just thinking about it.”

Yorio, 56, said her allergies were so bad it sometimes triggered vertigo. Her voice would get raspy. And the allergies caused frequent sinus infections that would come and go as she went on and off antibiotics.

About a year and a half ago, she said she started getting allergy shots and her life has changed.

“I’m glad I finally did it,” she said. “The symptoms have dissipated. The energy level is back.

“You think of that word shot and you think of a big, long needle. It’s so quick and easy. If I knew what I know now, I would have done this years ago.”

Allergies tend to surprise people when they return in the spring, Naimi said.

Over-the-counter medications and saline nose rinses can provide some relief for the drippy nose and sinus pressure people experience, McBride said. But some people will need to see a doctor to get relief.

“Most people don’t know what’s available and they suffer more than they have to,” he said.

In the Puget Sound region, pollen season can begin as early as mid-February with problems caused by cedar and juniper, Naimi said. Alder, elm and birch problems begin between the middle to the end of February.

This can mean up to two months of having intense pollen levels in the air, McBride said.

Living in suburban and urban areas doesn’t spare people from suffering from allergies.

“You don’t have to have a tree in your back yard,” Naimi said, “The wind can carry (pollen) for miles.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, salyer@heraldnet.com.

Allergy remedies

Physicians recommend:

  • Over-the-counter products, such as Zyrtec, Claritin or similar generic medications and anti-allergy eye drops such as Zaditor or Opticon.
  • Saline washes for nasal symptoms. Showering after being outside can reduce pollen on clothes and the body.
  • Seek medical help if asthma symptoms are triggered or if nasal and eye allergy symptoms become severe.
  • Pollen level info: Check the Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center at www.nwasthma.com/resources/pollen.asp.