Early trees, including elm, alder, cedar and birch, may be causing those with allergies to seek help a few weeks earlier than normal, Dr. Stanley Fineman with Atlanta Allergy and Asthma previously told Channel 2 Action News.
Channel 2 meteorologist Karen Minton also tweeted about Tuesday’s high pollen count.
“1125 particles of pollen per cubic meter of air in the past 24 hours. Atlanta did not reach 4 digit pollen count until March 25th in 2018,” she wrote. “The rain the next few days will help wash some of it out of the air.”
The story below was originally published on April 9, 2016.
World Allergy Week
The World Allergy Organization observes World Allergy Week in April. In 2016, the theme was “Pollen Allergies – Adapting to a Changing Climate.”
“Data show that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing which leads to overall warming trends; plants are producing more pollen which results in more pollen in the air and therefore increased allergen exposure,” the organization said.
Here in Atlanta, if pollen season seems to be getting worse, it’s because, well, it is.
“Data show that the pollen allergy season is arriving earlier but is not ending earlier,” said Atlanta allergist Dr. Stanley Fineman, who sits on the board of the World Allergy Organization. “Each year is different. We are seeing a longer season mostly because of warmer temperatures.”
Extreme pollen counts came early this spring in Atlanta — one expert calls them “gargantuan, off-the-charts count levels” — causing an earlier, longer and more miserable allergy season.
Metro Atlanta’s only official pollen counting station, in Marietta, recorded 11 days of extremely high pollen counts in March. In 2015, there was only one.
“But it’s not just the number of days with extremely high pollen counts,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with Atlanta Allergy and Asthma. “It’s how early the spring pollen season began this year.”
Hardwood pollens are the ones that get you in the spring. (Pine pollen, the yellow-green dust that looks like some kind of radioactive fallout, messes up your car but doesn’t really trouble your sinuses. But other tree pollens are assaulting you right now; grass pollens start up in summer; weed pollens in the fall.)
Pollen grains tend to be invisible — the largest ones measure about four-thousandths of an inch — so you feel the pollen count in your nose more than you see it with your eyes.
But somebody has to see it.
That’s where the Marietta clinic comes in.
How pollen is counted and measured
Technicians set out a “rotorod sampler” on the roof of the building. The small metal device uses adhesive-coated rods that spin through the air, collecting particles every 10 minutes. After 24 hours, the tech slides the rotorod under a microscope, and there they are: pollen grains of different sizes, shapes and hues, depending on their specific type.
The technician stains them red, to make them easier to see, and starts counting, clicking a handheld counter for each grain. After the tech counts a certain area on the slide, he or she applies a formula to calculate how many pollen grains in this sample would occupy a cubic meter of air.
And for 11 days in March, the answer was, way too many.
“The fact that it’s becoming warmer earlier is certainly driving up pollen counts.” said Dr. Steven Harris, director of Asthma and Allergy at Piedmont Healthcare.
Patients with asthma, he said, are in particular danger. Rising temperatures caused by climate change lead to longer allergy seasons, which can ultimately cause more asthma attacks.
Harris said studies also show that emergency visits are tied to high pollen counts.
“Here in Atlanta,” said Harris, “we have gargantuan, off-the-charts count levels. And even when the levels are somewhat lower, we’re still seeing people come in with symptoms.”
These symptoms are often underestimated, said Dr. Jennifer Shih, who specializes in both pediatric and adult allergy and asthma at Emory University. In fact, allergy symptoms can even lead to chronic fatigue, she said. In children, they can cause behavior changes from lack of sleep because they’re not breathing well overnight.
But there’s no single way to avoid the allergies. Common myths like buying locally produced honey or moving to an area with a different climate won’t solve the problem for someone who is genetically predisposed to have spring allergies, the experts said.
Instead, allergists like Fineman recommend testing to find out exactly what a person is allergic to. Then doctors can combat the symptoms through immunotherapy, he said.
Cobb County resident Jimmy Cooper, who had suffered for 15 years of severe spring allergies, found out via allergy testing that he was allergic to all trees, all grasses and all weeds.
“I was absolutely miserable,” said Cooper.
After immunotherapy, which involves a tailor-made extract based on each patient’s specific allergies, Cooper says he found significant relief.
Other ways to combat allergy symptoms include keeping track of the daily pollen count, taking medications appropriately recommended by physicians, wearing a mask outdoors and being cautious of how much time is spent outside during high pollen counts.
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