Spring is officially here. The flowers, trees, and weather say so. I can remember making all my friends and relatives jealous when I first moved down to Georgia because of the early spring weather. You can gloat a little when you are sitting on your front porch enjoying the sunshine and breeze and everyone in New Jersey is still wearing their long underwear and down coats.
It has been a cold and rainy winter so the last week of warm, spring-like weather was a welcome change. Everyone was happy to see the sun again and to celebrate the early signs of spring.
The problem with early spring in Georgia? Allergies.
Right now, everyone I know seems to be suffering. In fact, as I write this, my youngest is recovering from a glorious day outside and on the soccer fields with big sister - recovering from itchy eyes, running nose, and post nasal drip. My son's symptoms are pretty typical of allergies: sneezing, stuffy and runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes.
Those that suffer from allergies can gauge the severity of their symptoms based on pollen counts. A pollen count is the measurement of the number of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air. Pollen counts are given for big categories of specific plants that are the most common allergens such as grass.
The pollen counts for trees is very high. Oak, elm, and alder are the current culprits, pushing the pollen count up to 182 in the next few days.
Most national and local weather forecasting agencies utilize a pollen index for forecasting pollen. Pollen indexes range in number with the higher the number representing more pollen. A pollen index also takes into account other weather events that might affect pollen counts. By creating an index of low to high levels, allergy sufferers can track what they anticipate to impact their daily lives.
Some 35 million Americans suffer from spring allergies. But many of them do so without taking precautions to limit the effect of pollen. Think about it - most of us have heard someone complain (or maybe we ourselves are the complainers) about the yellow dust on their car but few people go to the effort of washing that dust off every day so that it doesn't get inside the car, on them, or in their home? We tend to not take allergies seriously if we don't have serious allergic reactions.
Some simple rules to follow if you suffer from allergies may alleviate some (in some cases, unnecessary) suffering. Keep your windows and doors shut at home. Keep your car windows up. Stay inside during mid-day and afternoon hours when pollen counts are highest. Don't hang clothes out to dry - use a dryer (this is a hard one for me because there is nothing I enjoy more than hanging a load of laundry on the laundry line). Run the air conditioning, which dries the air, but remember to change the filter regularly and, if possible, use a HEPA filter that will filter out much of the pollen from the household air. If you are mowing the lawn or working in the year, wear a mask. Take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes after being outside.
Some doctors recommend an annual visit to assess and/or reassess allergies. Because there is so much variation in what blooms when, a person who has never had allergies can seemingly suddenly develop them while a person who has suffered for year can suddenly find relief. And just as your suffering may vary, your response to certain allergy medications may vary. Talk to your doctor about what prescription or over-the-counter option is best for your symptoms.
Hosanna Fletcher has a Masters in Public Health and another in Sociology, she has worked on a variety of community development projects, led training sessions for Lay Health Advisors, conducted and evaluated health risk assessments, and designed and implemented employee wellness programs. Hosanna and her husband Kevin, a Newton County native, have been married for 15 years this October. They have two children - Miranda, 11, and Thomas, 3.