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Published Tuesday, April 10, 2001
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Sneezin' season again

Pollen count ah-ah-achieves near-record


The pollen bomb has dropped, and Susan Williams is coping with her annual suffering.

She spent a glorious spring Sunday indoors, a box of lotion-laced Kleenex handy.

Her sneezing and throbbing sinuses kept her up much of the night. And Monday morning, when she got in her car to go to work, she could barely see through itchy eyes and a blanket of yellow-green pollen.

"I was just beginning to think last week - with all the rain we had - that we might escape it this spring," said Williams, a Charlotte legal secretary. "Then KABOOM! It was like there was a big explosion over the weekend."

The pollen count in the Charlotte area shot from the mid-high range last week to a near-record on Monday. The total hit 1,974 grains per cubic meter of air, one of the highest tree pollen counts in six or seven years of tracking, according to the Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center.

"The jump is astounding," said Dr. John Klimas, an allergist with the center, which measures pollen and mold counts.

Klimas said Charlotte often has some of the highest tree pollen counts in the country. But weather has made recent days worse than usual.

"The cold weather we had delayed the pollination, and the rain we had last week and the week before kept it down, so all of a sudden everything is bursting out," Klimas said. "Usually it's a little more gradual."

Pollen levels for today, Wednesday and Thursday are expected get even higher, says Allergy Alert on the internet's

The yellow-green you see on cars is what you're inhaling.

Allergic reactions from food, drugs and animals can be avoided, but flying pollen is so pervasive. When levels are high - when trees are first blooming and leafing - there's little you can do except slip on a space suit, or never go outside.

Maxine Cutting of Morganton would never consider staying inside in spring. For decades she's gardened and golfed and never once suffered from hay fever.

Until now. "I don't have a cold, but my nose is sneezy and runny," Cutting said.

Her doctor told her it's the unusually high pollen count.

"My problem is that I love to be outside. Everything is so beautiful in bloom; my yard is ablaze," Cutting said. "But my nose just doesn't like it."

Most of the pollen now is coming from what helps make the Charlotte region beautiful: Its oak, pine and birch trees.

"We have such a tremendous conglomeration of oak trees; we are one of the highest in the country in oak tree pollen," Klimas said.

The oak pollens tend to remain airborne longer than pine and on dry, warm and breezy days like Sunday and Monday, will drift into any unsuspecting nostril, unleashing small packets of histamines in the mast cells of nose or lung tissue.

It causes the nose to sneeze and run, the eyes to itch and the mind to lose concentration.

"I call the misery of allergies the Rodney Dangerfield of diseases," said Klimas, who hustled from patient to miserable patient Monday. "In the past, we used to just think of allergies as a nuisance. But it really does affect the quality of life and should be taken more seriously than it is."

Klimas said people sensitive to pollen should work outdoors in the evening and avoid mornings ("It's just flying then"). Masks help ("They look dorky, but they work"). Or before going out, you can head off a pollen bombardment with a nondrowsy anti-histamine, or even a nasal spray.

If you're landscaping, choose pollen-free or low-pollen trees and shrubs. It's the common trees in most yards - oaks, ash, elms, pines - that cause most pollen-related illness, according the American Lung Association. Plant those trees away from where you spend most of your time in the yards, because pollens are deposited close to their sources.

"Or you can take a trip to the Caribbean during the heaviest pollens," Klimas mused. "And take your allergist with you."

Go online to;/;/ (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology)

`My nose just doesn't like it' "I call the misery of allergies the Rodney Dangerfield of diseases."
Dr. John Klimas


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