- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Allergy sufferers will need to have a box of tissues handy as the pollen season makes a big comeback in the D.C. area in the next two weeks, allergy and weather specialists say.

Cool temperatures in the past two months delayed the blooming of pollen-producing trees, keeping the pollen count below average. But tree and grass pollen counts are expected to climb later this month with eye-watering, sneeze-inducing fervor, said Susan E. Kosisky, chief microbiologist at the U.S. Army Centralized Allergen Extract Laboratory at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“The next two weeks will really determine [how severely allergy sufferers are affected], since we’re headed toward the peak right now,” Miss Kosisky said. “As long as the temperatures stay warm and there’s not a whole bunch of rain, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of tree and grass pollen to go around for everybody.”

The count has been high this week. The last 24-hour tree pollen count was 1,386 grains per cubic meter of air, Miss Kosisky said. A pollen count of 1,500 is considered “very high.”

The cedar pollen count shot up during the few 80-degree days in the second week of March then dropped.

Data from the past eight years show that tree pollen peaks during the final two weeks of April and grass pollen begins to prosper, Miss Kosisky said.

It is also when winter-weary residents roll down their car windows and leave their front doors or windows open to let the spring air in.

“That’s when you see the yellowish-green haze in the air and that yellowish film on the cars,” she said. “It’s probably the worst time for the tree [pollen allergy] sufferer because it gets breezy and everything blows in.”

Recent temperature warm-ups have caused oaks, sycamores, pines and birches — the region’s biggest pollen producers — to “explode,” putting the D.C. area on the fast track toward achieving normal pollen levels by the end of the month, Miss Kosisky said.

However, the season thus far has not nearly approached the seven-year high registered last year. April 20, 2005, notched the highest daily tree count at 3217, Miss Kosisky said.

Pollen counts have “been sort of on the down side of the roller coaster [when] compared to last year … but high enough to cause problems for tree-allergic patients,” Miss Kosisky said. “Even at low levels, very sensitive tree-allergic patients will be experiencing allergy symptoms.

Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, said the expected high weekend temperatures in the 70s means that the woes of allergy sufferers will only worsen as spring progresses.

“We certainly have the ideal conditions right now, where we have light winds and seasonal temperatures, which are allowing for the blossoms on the trees and bushes to come out, and we’ve had very little in the way of rain to wash the pollen out of the air,” he said. “Certainly, until the trees have finished doing their thing, the pollen count will go higher.”

Rain showers are forecast for today, Sunday and Monday, he said, but “it probably won’t wash [out the pollen] completely.”

To avoid allergy flare-ups, sufferers should use central air conditioning and keep their car windows rolled up, Miss Kosisky said.

Dr. Valerie Augello Carregal, an allergist in Northwest, said showering after coming indoors and changing pillowcases every night helps relieve the symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines provide fast relief for “the itchies, the runnies and the sneezing,” she said.

Dr. Carregal said her office has been “swamped” since oak pollen began swirling in the air two days ago.

“A lot of patients are very much complaining of [eye] itching, and some helpful hints would include after somebody walks indoors, they can use their natural tears or wetting drops to try to rinse away the overt pollen that’s there,” she said.

Patients should see a doctor to rule out asthma if they develop even a simple cough, she said.

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