Allergy sufferers contend with spring pollen season
by Marie Nesmith
Apr 17, 2011 | 3203 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tracy Lewis suffers from allergies and is undergoing treatments to minimize her symptoms. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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While recreational gardeners are embracing the emergence of colorful flora, allergy sufferers are continuing to battle a host of symptoms resulting from the spring pollen season.

"Right now we're experiencing the pollens primarily from trees, and [the] grasses are just beginning," said Dr. Brad Goff with Northwest Georgia ENT in Cartersville. "Pollen counts are extremely high as you've seen. We have had some relief because of some of the rains that we've had.

"That kind of cleanses the air a little bit but then everything kind of gets fired up again after the rains settle down a day or two, and the wind does not help us because it stirs things up significantly. We've just had a lot of wind in the last week or so that I've noticed has really stirred things up and made things a little worse probably. I don't think we're any worse than we've been, but it's significant."

According to the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, "the only National Allergy Bureau certified pollen counting station in the Atlanta area," the pollen count's top contributors presently are mulberry, oak, pine and beech trees. In referring to their posted data on www.atlantaallergy.com, the pollen counts this month have ranged from 403 on Thursday to 3,301 April 4, which surpasses the extremely high range minimum of 1,500.

For Tracy Lewis, March to November presents a range of frustrating health issues, ranging from nasal congestion to lack of sleep. To her surprise, the Rydal resident's severe allergies began four years ago when she turned 40. While she is affected yearlong with allergies stemming from tree and grass pollen to dust, the warmer months wreak havoc on her quality of life.

"I'm just stopped up," Lewis said. "My whole head is like a fog. The allergies are very irritable to people like me that have them. It's hard to breathe. It's hard to even speak. Sometimes I lose my voice. But I have been taking the shots there at Dr. Goff's. I take them once a week or I try to make that happen anyways.

"I've been taking them for a little over a year and a half, and I've noticed the past two years when [the pollen] gets so bad that it's a little bit better each time. My symptoms are not as bad as the year before. I'm not completed with [the shots]. I think, depending on your body, it takes three to five years for you to [see the best results]. What they're doing is they're infecting me with exactly what I'm allergic to and then your system just gets immune to it. It gets to where it can handle it."

Although her symptoms are worse than those considered to be just nuisances, Lewis is determined not to let her allergies affect her active lifestyle.

"It can be better if I get out earlier in the morning or late at night," she said. "I think that's because of the heat though. I think heat aggravates it. I'm an outside person, so I just have learned to live with it. [I also] get no sleep. This is an example ... I got home from the beach [and] I felt great and rested.

"Now the past three nights I've slept maybe one or two hours each night, and it's because of the pollen and all of the things that are coming out. It's miserable. So if you're an allergy sufferer, most people just learn to live with it, and they may be groggy and a little moody or aggravated. So that's why I highly recommend the shots, because I'm only a third of the way through it and I can already feel some improvement."

While Goff does not believe the time of day is directly related to a person's level of allergy symptoms, he did provide some tips to bring relief to sufferers.

"The best [type] of allergy therapy is avoidance," he said, adding some common allergy symptoms include sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. "If you know you have certain allergies, if you could, stay indoors, run air conditioning, use filters, that sort of thing. That's the best. Now that's next to impossible at this time of the year but that's the number one best sort of therapy.

"Number two would be use of medications, and there are some good medications now that are available in terms of controlling symptoms, such as the Allegras, the Claritins, Zyrtec. Those are what we call nonsedating. Old-fashioned Benadryl is great. It treats symptoms but it's short acting and it does cause sedation. Washing your nose with salt water is helpful just to clean things out, and we [provide] nasal sprays from time to time, but those are all prescription."

Other practices that Goff recommends allergy sufferers follow include once inside taking a shower and changing clothes, washing indoor-outdoor pets regularly, wearing a mask outdoors, and leaving one's shoes outside or by the door.

"When a person comes to see their physician, they're obviously seeking for something more than just what's over the counter. ... In my practice -- ear, nose and throat -- this kind of stuff, if left unattended, can lead to chronic sinus problems and that's kind of where I will get involved," Goff said. "Sometimes people will develop what are called nasal polyps, which can be caused by allergies and they'll ultimately have to have surgery for that ... [Allergies relating to pollen] affects as many as 20 percent of the population and the money that's annually spent on this is in the billions of dollars with people seeking treatments over the counter and through their doctors. So it's a big problem."