Armies of yellow dust-like particles known as pollen invaded Cobb County over the weekend and will continue to grow larger over the days ahead, tormenting allergy sufferers with itchy, red eyes, runny noses and fits of uncontrollable sneezing.
“It’s so horrible, my whole face will puff up if I do not take medicines,” said Amy Barnes of west Cobb.
“It’s all year round but exponentially even worse during this time of year.”
The 30-year-old suffers from chronic asthma and irritated eyes because of her allergies to tree, grass and weed pollens.
She isn’t the only one struggling. Dr. Grace Chiang, an allergist with WellStar, said the biggest culprit this time of year is tree pollen.
It’s the one her patients complain about most.
“Spring tends to cause severe symptoms, especially here in Atlanta, because it gets warm very quickly and the pollen count increases quite dramatically,” she said.
Pollen counts in metro Atlanta jumped from 5 last Friday, which is considered low, to 2,607 on Tuesday, which is extremely high, according to the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic.
The highest pollen count in 2012 was a record 9,367 on March 20.
“It’s very difficult to predict pollen counts scientifically,” Dr. Stanley Fineman with the clinic said when asked what we should expect over the next few days.
“We know that the trees’ plants release their pollen when it’s warm and when it’s dry,” he said. “As long as the weather continues in that realm, then we’ll continue to see extremely high counts and, unfortunately for patients, they will have more trouble with their symptoms.”
Tree pollens are typically a problem between February and May; grass, late spring and early summer; and weeds in the fall. Other types of allergies like dust mites, mold and pet dander are year-round irritants.
Spring pollen allergies also tend to last longer in the Southeast because it’s warmer longer and can continue into the fall months.
There are tests available for those who suffer to determine their exact allergies.
“The most common way to get tested is by getting skin tests,” Chiang said.
A doctor will place the allergen on the skin, typically on the back, and if someone is allergic, the area will become red and itchy within 15 minutes.
Doctors are able to determine an allergy based on a patient’s symptoms, including a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, irritated and watery eyes, headaches or fatigue.
“The history is always very important when it comes to allergies,” Chiang said.
If someone doesn’t have an allergy, the symptoms may be caused by a cold or chronic sinus infection.
Chiang also said allergies usually don’t affect children younger than 3 years old or the elderly.
“The allergy can persist into adulthood, but, overall, allergies are less common at the extremes of ages,” she said.
Chiang said there are ways to help reduce symptoms.
“There are a lot of medications that are available and are safe and effective,” she said. “But it can be difficult to navigate through all of them, so seek help from an allergist.”
She recommends paying close attention to the dosing instructions.
“The challenge is knowing which one to take and how to take it,” she said.
Allergy shots can be given by doctors as well.
“It’s the closest thing we have for a cure for allergies,” Chiang said.
Doctors will administer the allergens to which a patient is sensitive, and over time it could help them build up immunity and reduce the symptoms.
Other means of prevention include keeping car and home windows closed, showering at night and changing clothes before getting into bed, and keeping pets indoors or wiping down their fur before letting them inside.
Barnes added another creative means to help clear the air in the home.
She rigs a box fan with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter by taping it on front and placing one in the front of her home and a second in the back to circulate the clean air through her house.
“Box fans typically throw air a lot faster,” she said. “And we’ve been doing this since we moved into this house five years ago, and it’s been working fantastic!”