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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Allergy sufferers know pollen, mold levels unusually high this spring

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

By Rick Wills
Seems like we hear it each spring: Seasonal allergy sufferers claim pollen and mold levels have never been higher.

Yet this year the complaint is true, according to doctors and those who monitor pollen and mold levels, which they say have peaked in the past eight weeks.

"It has been really severe this year. It causes some people to feel like they have the flu. I have patients who feel like they have to sit inside with the windows closed," said Andrew MacGinnitie, an allergist and immunologist and program director of the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville.

Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internist at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side, said his experience has been much the same.

"We are seeing some patients, 60-year-olds, who have never had allergies this severe in the past and who come in and need a prescription," Itskowitz said.

An estimated 50 million Americans suffer with seasonal allergies.

"I will definitely use the medications. I have a lot of sinus drainage, lots of inflammation of the nasal passages," said Eddy Boyette, 35, of Center in Beaver County, who sought medical attention and allergy tests at Allegheny General's Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Tests determined he is allergic to oak pollen and ragweed, among other things.

No one knows exactly why some years are worse for allergies; there are theories about everything from the rate of snow melt to global warming. Yet weather clearly plays a factor, and spring arrived earlier this year, according to Alicia Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon.

The average daily high in March was 53.7 degrees, more than 4 degrees warmer than normal. In April, the average daily high temperature was 67.7 degrees, 7 degrees higher than normal. And record temperatures of 84 degrees or higher were recorded on April 2, 3 and 6.

"We did bump up our growing season up to April 21, instead of early May. Trees definitely started to bud a couple of weeks earlier this year," Smith said.

This year's readings for oak pollen, one of the area's most pervasive sources of allergy problems, consistently have been above 4,000 per cubic foot. Last year's highest readings were 3,500 and reached that level only on a handful of days, said Asha Patel, a research associate at Allegheny General's allergy division.

"Readings for tree pollen are much higher this year and started much earlier," said Patel, who monitors the Burkhard Volumetric Spore Trap on the hospital's third-floor roof, site of Pittsburgh's official readings of pollen, mold and spore since 2003.

Each morning, Patel removes a slide from the machine, which looks like a centrifuge. She spends about two hours using a microscope to measure pollen levels on the slide from weeds, grass and about a dozen types of trees.

"I have no idea what juniper or sycamore trees look like, but I know what their pollen looks like through a microscope," Patel said.

Her readings of pollen and mold levels are sent by e-mail to weather forecasters, doctors and an increasing number of patients.

Dr. David P. Skoner, an allergist and director of Allegheny General's Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, is working on simpler ways to administer medication to those with allergies so severe they need weekly shots, which can be done only in a doctor's office.

"We are developing an alternative way of giving this medication under the tongue. There would not be the risk of anaphylaxis -- a patient having trouble swallowing or breathing," said Skoner, who recently published an article on the subject in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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