Health & Fitness

Allergy season gets a late start in the region

Michael Lunsford thought he was doing the right thing when he started taking an antihistamine three weeks ago.

It worked until he mowed, went to a baseball game, and drove with his car windows down.

And now he has the same itchy eyes, scratchy throat and stuffy nose that many Wichitans are complaining of.

Tree pollens were a couple of weeks late in showing up this year, said Wichita physician Thom Rosenberg of Allergy & Asthma Center. But they're here in force now, getting wide dispersal thanks to the wind.

"When you see the trees bud, that means they're starting to pollinate," he said Tuesday.

That's usually mid-March, but "this has been a very strange winter — a very long winter, cooler weather into the springtime."

Elm, cottonwood, maple and oak trees cause the problems, he said. (A patient who complains of symptoms when the cotton from cottonwoods starts flying isn't allergic to tree pollen but to grass, which pollinates then, he noted.)

Lunsford and Jana Curl said they've had allergy problems long enough to know what they should do — start taking antihistamines before the pollen starts flying — but still can tell when the season has begun.

Curl said she has stuffiness, an itchy throat and "watery, puffy, look-like-you've-been-crying" eyes.

"Trees seem to bother people's eyes," Rosenberg said.

Family physicians' offices said they've had an increase in calls about allergy problems in the past few days. "Oh, yes," said Kim Barnes, a nurse at West Wichita Family Physicians, who said her own symptoms have started, too. A physician there said the number of calls was about typical for allergy season.

Rosenberg said the wind has made a difference in people's symptoms. "It increases your exposure," he said.

When over-the-counter antihistamines don't do the job, Rosenberg said, prescription medications can be tried. Immunology treatment — allergy shots — remains the gold standard.

Those who get through tree pollen season but know they're allergic to grasses and weeds should be prepared, Rosenberg said:

Preventive antihistamine use for grasses should start about April 15 and for weeds about Father's Day.

And don't put too much stock in pollen counts, Rosenberg said: The goal is to treat allergies so they don't really matter and you can live a "normal" life even in pollen season.