August 27, 2014

Pollen allergy season near its peak in Wichita

Blame ragweed for the area’s high national ranking in pollen levels.

This is the time of year when Wichita leads the nation in sneezing.

And here we are again, high in the national pollen rankings.

Last week, the city’s pollen level ranked No. 1 nationally on Pollen.com. This week, it dropped two spots to No. 3, behind Cleveland and Indianapolis.

The pollen allergy forecast for Wichita on Pollen.com calls for high levels Thursday and Sunday and medium levels Friday and Saturday.

Delia Shropshire, principal at Holy Savior Catholic Academy and an allergy sufferer, had to leave work early one day this week because of her allergies.

“By the afternoon, I was just sneezing incessantly, and I couldn’t get anything done,” she said.

“It’s terrible. Itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat. Your head feels cloudy, so it’s hard to think.”

The blame falls most heavily on ragweed, which traditionally starts pollinating Aug. 15 through 18 and reaches a peak around the Labor Day weekend and shortly after, said physician Joel Fromer, an allergy specialist with the Allergy and Asthma Center in Wichita.

“This is a pretty high year,” he said. “We had enough moisture in the spring to keep the weeds growing, and it’s windy in Kansas, with wide open spaces.”

A rainy summer also makes life more miserable for allergy sufferers.

Weeds are very opportunistic, said Rebecca McMahon, horticulture agent for the Sedgwick County Extension Office. When there is ample rain, they will grow in ditches and other unmaintained areas in addition to their normal spots.

“They’d grow in places that they haven’t grown in the middle of drought situations,” she said.

Primary villains are ragweed and grasses, she said.

“It’s the time of the year when those plants are flowering and hence reproducing pollen,” she said. “Ragweed is a really common pollen allergen that affects a lot of people.”

People who are allergic to pollen may not feel symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, runny nose and itchy eyes immediately. Sometimes it takes awhile for symptoms to set it in, Fromer said

Unfortunately, the time to start treatment was before the season began, he said.

“Most medications work better if you start before the season,” Fromer said. “Once your allergy symptoms get out of control, it is hard to get them under control.

“The idea is prevention, but people don’t think that way. They wait till they’re miserable, then they go see somebody.”

Today there are better over-the-counter measures such as antihistamines and intranasal steroid sprays for mild to moderate symptoms, he said.

Shropshire said she sees a doctor at Via Christi Clinic who helps her manage her allergies daily. As a result, although the symptoms never go away at times like these, they aren’t as severe as they could be, she said.

“Once they’re triggered, it’s like everything will cause you to have symptoms,” Shropshire said. “Once the triggers get out of hand, it’s difficult to control it, so it’s best to have a doctor manage it on an everyday basis.”

She needs a daily prescription antihistamine, she said, and during intense allergy times, she also uses steroids. But finding a good doctor and being able to manage allergies is the key, she said.

As a school principal, Shropshire turns her experience with allergies into a teaching opportunity. She talks to parents and encourages them to get their students under a management system with a physician, she said. She even brings in a couple of doctors who specialize in allergies to hold workshops at the school.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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