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Mother Nature increases tree allergies

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GINA R. HEINE
April 16, 2010
— Blame your allergies on the trees.

Mother Nature’s warm weather this spring has brought tree pollen out in full force earlier than usual, a local allergist said.


“Conditions have just been perfect,” said Ronald Ragotzy, allergist/immunologist at Mercy Health System. “In past years, people have gotten used to not having a good tree season. I think the trees are making up for it this year.”


Trees seem to affect the eyes a lot more than other types of allergies, and Ragotzy said he’s heard from a lot of people calling in with just eye symptoms.


“It doesn’t have to be just nasal symptoms for tree allergies,” he said.


The warm, windy conditions developed more tree pollen earlier than years past. Tree allergies usually stick around until Memorial Day, Ragotzy said.


Experts have been looking at data on the timing of the growing season compared to past years, and it’s probably a little earlier this year, said Mike Maddox, horticulture educator for UW Extension and Rotary Botanical Gardens.


“With the warm spell at the beginning of the month, it got things moving for us,” he said. “Last week, (we were a) good week or week and a half ahead of schedule.”


Nationally, experts say this is the worst allergy season in years. The words “pollen” and “allergy” are among the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in several U.S. cities, the Associated Press reported.


Trees generally pollinate based on the time of year, but how much they pollinate varies with weather conditions, Ragotzy said.


Maple trees are pretty much done pollinating, and you can tell by the maple flowers on the streets, he said. Each tree takes its own time, and oaks will start in May, he said.


Pollen can leave a fine coating on parked cars, he said, but that doesn’t mean it’s all allergic. Pine trees, for example, have large, heavy pollen that can yellow your car, but most people aren’t allergic to it, he said.


The surge in tree pollen has boosted the number of office visits and phone calls from patients, he said.


“I’m hearing from patients I haven’t seen for five, six, seven years,” he said. “All of a sudden, now they’re having troubles.”


There’s three standard ways to treat allergies: avoid the causes, take medication or use immunotherapy, he said.


It’s obviously hard to avoid trees, but there are a lot of over-the-counter medications available, he said.


Allergy shots are a different philosophy. The series aims to rid a person of his or her allergies over three to five years. When the shots are done, the process works “extremely well” for tree allergies, he said.



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