Metro Detroit allergy season in full swing

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Stock up on the Kleenex and nasal spray — just in case.

Metro Detroit's tree pollen season is winding down, but grass pollen season is about to start and weed pollen season won't be far behind, according to experts.

"I don't think this year is going to be any different than previous years for allergies," said Dr. Noah Stern, an otolaryngologist — or ear, nose and throat specialist — with the Detroit Medical Center. "The reality is if you have allergies, you're going to suffer."

Allergies are abnormal reactions to ordinarily harmless substances. For people who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis — or hay fever — their bodies release a chemical called histamine to deal with pollen to which they're exposed. Histamine can cause symptoms such as sneezing, itching in the eyes, nose, roof of the mouth and throat as well as a stuffy or runny nose.

Typically, allergies start giving sufferers trouble between March 15 and May 15 when trees have their pollination season, or when flowering plants release a fine powder into the air to reproduce.

The season for grasses comes on its heels, May 15 to July 1, which is then followed by the pollination season for weeds in the fall.

"It really depends on the weather," said Dr. Andrew Dzul, an otolaryngologist with the Lake Shore Ear, Nose and Throat Center in St. Clair Shores. "If it's warm, sunny and windy, then the pollen counts get high. If it's cool and rainy, then they don't."

Last week, concentrations of mulberry, oak and pine tree pollen and mold were high in the area, according to the National Allergy Bureau's Pollen and Mold Report.

The group, part of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, reports current pollen and mold spore levels from 84 counting stations in the U.S., one in Canada, and six in Argentina. The Lake Shore Ear, Nose and Throat Center operates one of the allergy bureau's pollen and mold counting stations.

Terri Reed, 56, of Washington Township, said she can tell there's tree pollen in the air as soon as she steps outside.

"My eyes will start watering when I ride my bike," she said. "I can feel it before I can see any pollen. It gets harder for me to breathe when the pollen is really heavy."

Reed said it's something she puts up with.

"It's just a period of time I go through every year," she said. "I just power through it. The reward is we're finally able to be outside."

However, she admits "I'm glad when the tree pollen season is over and summer starts."

More than 17.5 million American adults have been diagnosed with hay fever, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 6.6 million children suffer from hay fever, too.

As most residents of Michigan and Metro Detroit know, allergies in the Great Lake State can make people downright miserable.

To lessen symptoms, doctors recommend sufferers do several things.

The first is consult with an allergist to determine to what you're allergic, Stern said.

"If you know what you're allergic to, then you can try to avoid those things," said Stern. "And avoiding allergens is the best thing you can do."

He also suggests sufferers stay indoors, keep their homes' windows and doors shut and run air conditioners.

If you have to go outdoors, Stern said, change your clothing immediately and wash it well to remove any pollen.

In addition, over-the-counter allergy medications can help, Dzul said.

"People just wait and they get hit by their allergies this time of year," he said. "They should anticipate it and take antihistamines like Claritin before it starts."

He recommends Claritin because it's relatively inexpensive, almost free of side effects and works for 24 hours. Over-the-counter nasal sprays like Flonase and Nasacort also are effective, he said. However, he cautioned against medications with decongestants.

Stern said if those don't work, then immunotherapy, or allergy shots, may be the best treatment. In immunotherapy, patients are given drugs over a period of time to minimize allergic reactions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental organization, said in a report this month that Detroit is the seventh "sneeziest and wheeziest" city in America.

The council used the report, which ranked cities on the prevalence of ragweed and high ozone smog, to call for the U.S. government to strengthen health standards for ozone pollution and slash carbon pollution from power plants.

However, Dzul said there has been no evidence that shows a connection.

"There's some idea that global warming and increasing carbon dioxide levels are increasing the allergenicity of pollen, making it more allergenic," he said. "But that's theoretical. It's still in the research phase."

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Ease the sneeze

To reduce symptoms and avoid triggers, experts recommend allergy sufferers:

■Limit outdoor activities on days with high

pollen counts.

■Keep windows at home or in the car closed to

keep pollens out.

■Take showers after coming indoors to remove pollen trapped in your hair.

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology