Green glow washes away for now, but seasonal allergies on the rise in the Cape Fear

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WILMINGTON – Have you noticed the nuclear green glow on your car over the past few weeks? An early bloom, thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures, has led to a high pollen count. This, even with the area’s first March snowfall since 1983. The early spring before the burst of cold air over the weekend had been creating trouble for most allergy sufferers. And we’re not out of the clear yet.

So, what causes these symptoms? Pollen is typically released from trees, weeds and grasses, causing sneezing, running nose, nasal congestion, watery eyes, itch nose, throats and skin.

Wilmington saw its first snow fall in the month of March since 1983 on Sunday.
Wilmington saw its first snow fall in the month of March since 1983 on Sunday.

According to Dr. Kenneth Myers of Allergy Partners of Coastal Carolina, the immune system mistakenly sees the pollen as a danger and releases antibodies that attack the allergens. That leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood.

Histamines trigger the runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms that are all too familiar if you have allergies.

Pollen levels have been soaring in Wilmington weeks before the first official day of spring on March 20.

“When you have an allergy it is an over-reaction to stimuli you shouldn’t react too,” Myers SAID. “It stimulates your cells and causing congestion, sinus and respiratory infections.

“It’s not going to cause any long term harm, but if allergies are not treated properly, it could end up causing problems, from infections to poor nighttime sleep. The more aggressive you are treating symptoms the better you’ll feel,” he said.

Myers gives a few tips to try to keep allergy symptoms at a minimum.

  • Exercise early in the morning, when pollen counts are typically lower than in then afternoon.
  • If you’ve been outside, shower when you get home. Laying in your bed, you’re just putting that pollen right in your bed.
  • Keep your windows closed and the AC on. Air conditioning acts as a little bit of a filter system. 
  • Keep car windows closed while driving.
  • Vacuum inside your home at least once a week.
  • Avoid other irritants such as dust, insect sprays, tobacco smoke, air pollution and fresh paint.

    The pollen build up on your car is just one sign the pollen count is rising.
    The pollen build up on your car is just one sign the pollen count is rising.

Counts tend to be particularly high on breezy days, when the wind picks up these sneeze-inducing grains and carries them through the air. Rainy days, on the other hand, wash away the allergens.

With wet weather and chilly conditions on Sunday, it looks like symptom for those who suffer from allergies may die down for at the least the next few days. But it’s only a matter of time before things kick up again.

“We had a very mild winter and pollen is very temperature sensitive,” said Steven Winters, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality. “It drops off with cold nights and increases with warm nights and afternoons.”

At the end of month, Winters will be giving a presentation at the Raleigh Museum on how the state counts pollen.

How is pollen count measured?

A device called an impaction sampler, according to Winters. It consists of a standard electric motor that lifts a glass rod out of a holder and spins fast, causing the pollen to have an impact onto the surface. The rod is then taken back to the lab and stained with a cabella [phonetic] stain, which reacts with the pollen cell walls so see the different shapes.

Look for the daily allergy tracker at www.weather.com. Photo courtesy- The Weather Channel.
Look for the daily allergy tracker at www.weather.com. Photo courtesy- The Weather Channel.

“Pine is the big one,” Winters added. “Pine looks like Mickey Mouse. In the spring, we see high trees [i.e., tree pollen is high). After tree pollen is done, then grass picks up in June, through summer/fall. Weeds counts typically pick up in the fall, including ragweed.”

There are many over-the-counter medicines that can ease the symptoms of allergies. If you suffer from severe allergies, set up an appointment with your doctor, who may recommend an allergy specialist.

What are some over the counter medicines recommended by doctors to help allergies?

“Things we recommend, even before spring, is to get over the counter Flonase, Nasacourt or Nasonex,” Myers said. “If you get on its six weeks at a time, it’ll help alleviate symptoms so when you have a bad day, Claritin D or Zyrtex D to take as needed.

“I’m not a big fan of Benadryl,” he added. “It makes you tired, drowsy and alters things.”

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