DOVER — Along with the sound of peepers comes the sound of sneezes.
For many, spring means the onslaught of seasonal allergies and the accompanying symptoms: a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, wheezing and watery or itchy eyes.
For most allergy sufferers, pollen is the main culprit in producing their symptoms and between March 1 and Oct. 15, the Air Quality Management Section of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control collects and reports pollen and mold counts that effect those with seasonal allergies.
Mike McDowell, a laboratory technician for the Division of Air Quality at DNREC, calculates regular pollen counts for the state. Counts are reported on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week in New Castle and reports the findings to the National Allergy Bureau.
The New Castle station is just one of 78 across the country and measures the pollen count through samples collected on a glass slide for a 24-hour interval or a drum for week-long intervals.
The pollen is then measured under a microscope in grains per cubic meter of air and reported to the National Allergy Bureau which posts all findings on its website, www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts.
“The reason we monitor the count is twofold,” Mr. McDowell said. “The numbers allow for people who suffer from allergies and their doctors to know the current levels and the counts can also be used in pharmaceutical research that will help allergy and asthma sufferers.”
Mr. McDowell said the amount of pollen is driven by temperature and day length with warmer, longer days producing more pollen than shorter, cooler days.
“So far, the highest count we’ve seen came on March 18, and not surprisingly, that was a nice, warm day,” he said. “And as we get further into the season, more and more pollen is in the air and you’ll be able to easily notice it on dark surfaces like cars.”
The main contributer to pollen in the air this early in the season is the maple tree but as April approaches, Mr. McDowell said that oak will join the maple as a large contributer to the pollen count as well.
“The most influential trees or plants depend in what area or region you’re in. In some other parts of the country, pine trees may be a big factor in the pollen count, so it really varies” he said.
Although pollination is necessary for many plants, seasonal allergy sufferers would rather do without it.
“Tree pollen is definitely the number one problem people with allergies must deal with in the spring,” said Dr. Shankar Lakhani of Family Allergy and Asthma Care Consultants in Dover. “In May and June, grass becomes more of a problem and late in the summer, there is ragweed to worry about.”
If you have an allergy , your immune system mistakes an otherwise harmless substance (an allergen) as an invader and the immune system overreacts by producing antibodies. The antibodies travel to cells that release histamine and other chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.
Dr. Lakhani said that if you do have an allergy , you can be tested by a doctor using a prick test.
“It only takes 10 or 15 minutes to get results and they are 97 percent accurate,” he said. “You can be tested for anything and everything, even down to which type of pollen you’re allergic to.”
According to the American Academy of Allergy , Asthma and Immunology, many times, the symptoms of a cold and allergies can be similar and it may be hard to tell the difference, especially if symptoms are experienced in the early spring, when colds are still common.
Seasonal allergies’ symptoms of runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, wheezing, watery or itchy eyes may be similar to colds’ but colds also may come with a sore throat, fever and chills as well.
Colds also should let up after a couple days while seasonal allergies will last as long as exposure. If you show symptoms of seasonal allergies for an extended period of time, you should visit your general practitioner who may refer you to an allergist.
Although allergies are common in kids, they can arise at any time in the life cycle, so even as an adult, symptoms may arise for the first time.
Dr. Lakhani said the worst conditions for seasonal allergy sufferers are early mornings and windy, dry conditions.
“If you have bad allergies, you should keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on rather than leaving windows open and having the fan on,” he said. “If you need to go out for a long period of time, you should get a shower, shampoo your hair and change your clothes to get rid of all the pollen.”
Temporary relief also can be found at the drug store, but be sure to check with the pharmacist on duty to determine the drug best for your symptoms.
There are also preemptive measures you can take with over the counter drugs and Dr. Lakhani said many can be taken up to 90 minutes before you plan on being exposed to pollen or other allergen.
If you have severe seasonal allergies, an allergist can prescribe medication for your specifitrigger. Although there is nothing to target tree pollen, allergy shots are an option.
For more information about seasonal allergies, visit aaaai.org.