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Changing Of The Seasons: First Flu, Now Allergies' Turn

William Brawley

It's already been one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. Now, you can add a late-blooming, but hard-hitting, allergy season to the list of reasons for some Florida residents' sinus miseries.

But as the director of the University of South Florida Health Division of Allergy and Immunology points out, it really isn't anything new.

"It's always a bad (allergy) season," said Dr. Richard Lockey. "I always get asked, 'Is this the worst season ever?' No. Every season is the worst season ever."

And the reason why? Look around the next time you're outside.

"We have 11 different species of oak trees that pollinate sequentially, so they start right about now and they go on into May," he said, adding that we haven't hit the height of stuffy noses and watery eyes yet. "The major problem will be the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March."

Lockey said that a colder than normal December and January is one of the reasons why the allergy season is delayed.

"Not so much for cypress and cedar (pollen), we see a lot of that already in the air, but the oak has been delayed because of the colder weather this winter," he said.

But now that the oak trees are blooming, the pollen is picking up - Lockey said oak pollen counts are coming in as high as 6,000 parts per cubic meter (ppm). USF Health performs weekly pollen counts using a device located on the roof of the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare on the Tampa campus.

"And people inhale (that pollen), it gets in their eyes, so they get sneezy, itchy, runny nose, itchy eyes, and they get wheezing and asthma, and that can be very, very severe," Lockey said.

And, of course, there's still the matter of the ongoing flu season, which can become a problem for some with bad allergies.

"People who have allergies appear to be more susceptible to viral infections," Lockey said. "It probably is a real thing that if you have allergies and your allergies are acting up, you're more susceptible to acquiring a virus that causes a cold such as rhinovirus or influenza."

As for what to do to handle allergies, Lockey has some suggestions:

  • Use air conditioning in the car and at home and keep the windows shut,
  • Don't go outside to exercise at this time of year,
  • Use over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and inter-nasal steroid sprays,
  • If those things don't help, consult an allergist.

"There's no reason why a person has to suffer from this year after year after year," Lockey said.
Lockey said there is relief on the way, as the height of oak and cypress pollen season ends around mid-March, with levels tapering off through mid-May.

In addition to conducting the weekly pollen counts, Lockey said USF Health has a number of National Institutes of Health-funded researchers on staff and regularly conducts allergy-related clinical trials.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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