Newsday: Allergy season in full bloom spreading misery

(April 10, 2010)

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April 10, 2010 by DELTHIA RICKS

The inescapable presence this season? Pollen - and plenty of it all over Long Island.

Doctors are seeing suffering patients who are complaining of itchy, watery eyes and nasal congestion.

"Everybody's miserable. It's really a bad allergy season," said Dr. James Fagin, director of the Center for Childhood Asthma at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park. "There's tree pollen everywhere."

And weed pollen, and a fine, nearly invisible dust from grass as well as a dizzying array of flowering plants. Pollen counts on Long Island range from moderate to high, according to The Weather Channel, which relies on reports from allergy specialists who report pollen conditions to the channel for use on its Web site, said Cat Bartosevicsh, spokeswoman for the channel.

Fagin attributes the pollen to the heavy rainy season, which led to an explosive release of allergens. Regionwide, oak, pine and birch trees appear to be the primary contributors.

Long Island is not alone. From Florida to Texas to Colorado, 2010 is shaping up to be a monster of an allergy season. The words "pollen" and "allergy" are among the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in several U.S. cities. Everywhere, it seems, is covered in a yellow, irritating dust.

"It's wicked bad this year," said Dr. Mona Mangat, an allergy specialist in St. Petersburg, Fla., who can't recall a worse year in the six she has worked there. "We're just overwhelmed with patients right now. We're double- and triple-booked with new patients, trying to work people in because we know how much [they're] suffering."

Health organizations are advising the public to take the usual precautions, like staying indoors and avoiding pollinating trees when at all possible. But these experts also note special concern for people with breathing disorders.

"Pollen can trigger asthma," said Michael Seilback, spokesman for the American Lung Association in Hauppauge. "We're going through a period of high pollen, and people with lung conditions should take precautions to protect themselves."

That means limiting exposure outdoors, especially in heavily wooded areas. But doctors aren't suggesting becoming a hermit, either. Closing oneself indoors does not necessarily provide a refuge because pollen and mold spores can settle inside, say experts, who advise wiping down surfaces frequently to reduce the likelihood of exposure to allergens.

Medications can reduce symptoms, Fagin said, but not all reactions to pollen require drugs - over-the-counter or prescription. And he warns overuse of over-the-counter nasal sprays can lead to an addiction that may be difficult to kick.

"The best treatment for allergy is avoidance," Fagin said, "but with pollen, that might be impossible."

For serious allergic cases, he prescribes antihistamines, decongestants and, for some, anti-inflammatory medications.