Spring (and Pollen) Is In the Air

By Cynthia Dagenais

Pollen makes allergy sufferers sneeze.

Pollen makes allergy sufferers sneeze.

Spring arrived on March 21 as the snowy blizzards in Poughkeepsie have been replaced by green grass, blooming trees and flowers and warm weather.  However, spring is not the only season that has arrived: it’s allergy season.

35 million people in the United States suffer from Allergic Rhinitis, one of the most common seasonal allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, also known as the AAAAI.

The AAAAI stated that the amount of pollen in the air during the spring is the cause of the sneezing, stuffiness and misery of allergy sufferers during this time of year.

The pollen grain is the structure used to transport male DNA to the female part of a flower in order to reproduce, according to the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit of the University of Worcester.  Most species of pollen have a level of “allergenicity,” but some are more common to cause symptoms of hay fever than others.  Ninety-five percent of all hay fever sufferers are affected by grass pollen and 20 percent are from birch tree pollen.

“Trees start pollinating in February; even when snow is still on the ground,” Janice Poley, RN at Marist’s Health Services, said.  “Sometimes students come in here with allergy symptoms before spring arrives.”

Marist sophomore Nick Seinfeld is allergic to pollen, and the spring season brings about an excess of this substance, due to the pollination of plants and flowers.

“I’m allergic to pollen and I really just get a stuffed up nose a lot of the time,” Seinfeld said.  “My eyes get really itchy once in a while and what affects me most is that it makes breathing difficult.”

Junior Marist student Ashley Posimato described her symptoms in one word: “Terrible.”

“My face swells up and I look like Rocky Balboa,” Posimato said.

Erin Donovan, also a sophomore at Marist, agrees.  “My allergies feel a lot like a cold,” she said.  “[The symptoms can] hold you back from everyday activities.”

It is not uncommon for people to confuse symptoms of allergies with symptoms of the “common cold.”  According to the Mayo Clinic, the common cold is caused by a virus. Cold symptoms include cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, sneezing, body aches and pains.

An allergy, according to the U.S. Department of Health, is sensitivity to a normally harmless substance.  An allergen, or foreign substance that provokes the allergic reaction, such as a type of food or pollen, causes the sensitivity.  Symptoms of allergies are similar to those of a cold, but without the fatigue and body aches.  The most common indicators are itchy eyes and a runny or stuffy nose.  Because allergies are not a virus, they are not contagious and cannot pass from one person to another.

Although allergies do not spread around, pollen can move around and affect many people who encounter it.

“[The pollen is] really bad especially in this area because they say all of it settles in the Hudson Valley,” Posimato said.  “I think it’s more specifically on Marist’s campus.”

Windy weather is commonly found on the Marist campus, especially in front of the library.

Windy weather is commonly found on the Marist campus, especially in front of the library.

“This area is often called ‘Allergy Valley’ probably because of the vegetation that grows near the Hudson River,” Donna Yerry, RN at Health Services, said.

Marist’s decorative grassy landscape and windy weather is an allergy sufferer’s worst nightmare.  According to Gillian Shepherd, MD, FAAAAI, chair of the Education Sub-Committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, pollen counts are high because the pollen has been spread through the air from the wind.   The pollen counts drop when it rains because it washes the pollen away.

“When I hear about the high pollen counts on the news I sort-of cringe,” Nick Palumbo, a junior, said. “My asthma is the worst in winter and spring, but spring is more difficult because I like to be outside. It’s hard to be active and running around outside when you can’t breathe very well.”

Treatment for seasonal allergies depends on the symptoms and their intensity.  Tips for treating and preventing allergy symptoms include shutting windows, showering at night after exposure, keeping pets clean and taking an antihistamine.  Many drugs that formerly required a prescription are now offered over-the-counter at pharmacies.  http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2009/03/23/fortin.hm.allergy.relief.cnn

What do Marist students do to help them get past the allergies?

“We have a lot of students come into Health Services for allergy shots,” Yerry said.  “Some come here more often than others; some get shots every other week, and others once a month.”

Poley said that most antihistimine and decongestant medications such as Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra and Sudafed are available in pharmacies and drug stores.

“If someone has a bad case of allergies, and over-the-counter medications are not working, they should see an allergist or doctor for diagnosis,” Poley said.

Seinfeld uses Claritin, now offered over-the-counter, at the first sign of his allergies.

“I don’t treat my allergies because I’m stubborn,” Posimato said. “Ellen Degeneres said on her show that oregano oil works like magic.  I believe her, but I just haven’t gotten any yet.”

“The two big symptoms that I get are a sore scratchy throat and dry eyes,” Palumbo said. “I don’t really take anything for it, but if my eyes get really bad I use Visine eye drops or place a cold wet towel over my eyes.”

Although seasonal allergies affect many people, most of the allergy sufferers interviewed said that Spring is their favorite season of the year.

“I don’t want to stay cooped up inside just because of dry eyes and sneezing,” Palumbo said.  “I just finished doing that for the past few winter months. If it’s nice outside, I’m going to go play out there.”

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