- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The hay fever season is upon us, but the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says things seem to be better for some of this area’s allergy sufferers this year than last.

Unlike last year, no city in the Mid-Atlantic will be ranked among the “Top Ten 2007 spring allergy capitals” when that list is released Tuesday by AAFA.

Washington and Baltimore both ranked in the top 10 in 2006, and Hartford, Conn., bore the scourge of being No. 1. But this spring, cities in the South are battling the nation’s worst allergy problems, according to AAFA spokeswoman April Waldron.

“We’ve seen an improvement in this region, since we’re not seeing the six-week waits for consultations with allergy specialists that we saw here last year, and people here are not overmedicating [for allergies], as they did last year,” Ms. Waldron said.

“It appears people in our region are starting to learn how to control their allergies,” she said.

Dr. Andrew Shorr, a pulmonologist at Washington Hospital Center, acknowledged allergy seasons “wax and wane.” But he said he has been seeing a “lot of patients” in his practice this spring. “So I can’t say things are less severe” this year.

Factors the AAFA uses in determining the worst cities for allergies in a particular season include high pollen counts, patient use of allergy medications (both prescription and over the counter) and lower-than-average numbers of board-certified allergists per patient.

“Medication use tends to track well up and down with pollen count,” said Mike Tringale, another AAFA spokesman.

AAFA has already determined the 10 worst cities in terms of spring allergies for this year, but has not ranked them. The complete ranking of the 100 cities viewed as the most challenging places to live with spring allergies will be available online at www.allergycapitals.com after April 3.

The fact that Mid-Atlantic cities are not among this spring’s worst may be little comfort to those living here, who are experiencing the sneezing, wheezing, coughing, itchy and watery eyes, nasal congestion, and runny nose that are symptoms of hay fever. Mr. Tringale said a pollen count of 200 grains of pollen per cubic meter of air is “considered high.”

But he cautioned that some people with allergies to oak or other tree pollen currently causing problems may suffer from exposure to just “one small grain” of pollen, while others must be subjected to a large amount to have difficulties.

Ms. Waldron said because pollinating trees, such as oaks, maples and elms, are especially prevalent in the South, that part of the country traditionally has some of the worst spring allergy woes. Warm weather and lack of rainfall have been cited in recent published reports describing how the 2007 spring allergy season in Atlanta and some other Southern cities has been one of the worst ever.

In the South, she said, there are also apt to be fewer buildings and more open space, so there is less interference with pollen mobility.

If not deterred, “one pollen spore can travel up to 500 miles,” she said.

About 35 million Americans have spring allergies, and Mr. Tringale said only about half do anything about it.

Pollen sufferers should try to stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when pollen counts are highest, according to Ms. Waldron. If they do go out for any length of time during that period, they should take off their shoes and change clothes when they go back inside.

Both Dr. Shorr and AAFA indicate that someone with a seasonal allergy probably can start with an over-the-counter antihistamine. But if it’s not effective in a week, they advise seeing a doctor.

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