By John Burton
After a particularly tough winter, now it’s a double whammy for allergy sufferers as they make their way through a tougher than normal spring season of sneezing and coughing.
Dr. Feryal Hajee, an allergist who has had a practice in Lincroft for the past five years, has seen firsthand what this spring has meant to the increased number of patients she’s seeing this year over last.
“It has been very active,” she said, noting she is seeing “quite a large increase” in seasonal allergy patients. She estimates the number at double this year over last.
So, why is that?
“We had the longest winter this year, haven’t we?” said Dr. Pedram Danesghar, a biologist and assistant professor at Monmouth University, West Long Branch.
But, Danesghar said, it wasn’t so much the winter we had as the spring we are experiencing. “We had a lot of late frosts and a colder than normal” March and April, he said. The cool weather has “put a lot of growth on pause.”
Usually plants, grass and trees begin coming into their growth in staggered times, which may make for a longer but a somewhat less severe allergy season. This year, however, Danesghar pointed out, the lengthy winter and cold early spring has resulted in the budding – all coming at us at once. “Basically, we’re getting overloaded with pollen,” he said.
As anyone diagnosed with allergic rhinitis already knows, that spells misery.
Pollen is a very light, mostly microscopic substance transported by wind, animals and insects. Danesghar describes it as “the equivalent of sperm in humans” that is used to fertilize the plants.
This year the region has seen about two to three times more pollen in a relatively shortened spring, Danesghar said.
About 7.8 percent of the over-17 adult population is affected by pollen in the air. About 10 percent of those younger than 17 feels its effects and are what the medical community call atopic individuals, Hajee said.
The allergies seem to disproportionately affect those in urban areas. Where people live may very well determine if they will develop an allergy.
“If you’re exposed to a lot of pollen, chances are you’re going to develop pollen allergies,” Hajee warned.
There would appear to be other biological factors that could very likely contribute to seasonal and perennial allergies, such as pregnancy, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, but medical researchers haven’t fully gotten their hands around it yet, Hajee said.
But what they do know, she said, is that while one can develop allergies at any age, if you do get them, you’re likely to have them for the rest of your life.
“And,” she noted, “each allergy season it tends to get worse.”
Along with the coughing, sneezing, watery and itching eyes, there can be more serious health consequences, she said.
During this time of year Hajee and her colleagues tend to see more asthma attacks, cases of bronchitis and sinus infections.
“You want to start the medication early in the season. That’s key to getting allergies under control,” the allergist recommends.
Another good piece of advice: “Start your spring cleaning early” and clean windows, bookshelves, air-conditioning ducts and anywhere pollen or other allergens may collect. Also keep windows closed and rely on air conditioning or fans, she said. If working in the yard or garden, sufferers should remember to wear masks to reduce exposure and outdoor activities should be done earlier or later in the day because pollen tends to be the heaviest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Hajee said.
There is reason for hope, Hajee noted, saying research is continuing and new therapies and medications, such as the newly approved over-the-counter nasal steroid spray, are offering hope and relief to patients.
This time of year can be a double-edged sword for many, Danesghar said. “We like the spring because the temperatures get warm and all the flowers come out and it looks really nice, but people forget that beauty comes with a cost.”