Allergies got you down? Join the crowd

Oak pollen bursting forth from a tree in Clearwater. The wind carries pollen and the pollen that’s bothering you may be coming from a tree you’ve never even seen.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2006)

Oak pollen bursting forth from a tree in Clearwater. The wind carries pollen and the pollen that’s bothering you may be coming from a tree you’ve never even seen.

If your allergies seem worse than ever this year, you're right. • "Pollen counts are high and many people are complaining of problems,'' said Dr. Richard Lockey, director of the division of allergy and immunology at USF Health. "It's just as bad as ever. And it's bad."

High humidity, stable air temperatures and the lack of heavy rain all contribute to high pollen levels. According to Pollen.com, a national pollen and allergy tracking service, the Tampa Bay area is in the high to very high range now mostly with oak, juniper and nettle pollen.

Oak pollen season usually runs from mid-February to mid-April. "From Valentine's Day to tax day, I tell patients," said Dr. Jack Parrino, an allergy specialist with Tampa Allergy Center.

But this season got an early start — warm winter temperatures caused oak trees to bloom earlier.

"I have my 'weather vane' patients who let me know when pollen is in the air. They started calling in early January with symptoms," said Parrino.

By the way, if you're pulling out your chainsaw now and eyeing that mighty oak in your yard, don't bother. Oak pollen travels on the wind. The pollen that's bothering you may be coming from a tree you've never even seen.

What's your best defense? Prevention, said Lockey. "It's much more difficult to turn off the allergic reaction than it is to prevent it from the beginning."

• Ideally, you should start prescription preventive medications such as steroid nasal spray, two to four weeks before the season starts.

• But it's not entirely too late. Use your prescription or over-the-counter allergy medication every morning during the season. They work more effectively that way. Don't wait for your eyes to stream and your nose to run.

• Avoid exposure. "Don't sit outside under oak trees watching a baseball game" if you know you're allergic, said Parrino.

• Wash away the evidence. "Change clothes when you come inside and rinse off in the shower," Parrino said.

• Got itchy eyes? If you wear contact lenses, you may need to go to your eyeglasses during the peak of the season, as having a foreign object in your eye just increases irritation, Parrino said. If your symptoms are less severe, try eye drops, but use them before you put your contacts in. Look for brands that promise 12-hour relief, like Zaditor.

• Finally, if medications and avoidance don't make life bearable, see a doctor. "It usually takes a combination of medications to get good control," said Parrino.

Plus, you'll get some much-needed sympathy. Commiserates Lockey: "All allergy seasons are the worst ever.''

Contact Irene Maher at imaher@tampabay.com

Coming attractions

After oak pollen season finally ends, Dr. Parrino said there are about 14 more tree varieties that will bloom locally until around mid May.

Then there's grass allergy season, from May to August or September. Grass allergies generally are not as severe, and although it's a long season, heat keeps us indoors longer with the windows closed, lessening exposure.

Then there's the weed season, primarily ragweed, from mid August to about November.

Allergies got you down? Join the crowd 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 3:54pm]

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