Pollen brings misery to Wichita area's allergy sufferers

Wake up with swollen eyes and a scratchy throat? Did your sinuses plug up and are you carrying around a headache that just won't go away?

Well, hello, you are in Wichita, which was the fourth-worst city in the nation for pollen on Tuesday. We were the second-worst on Monday and are certain to be up there again today and Thursday, according to a four-day forecast that determines the nation's pollen count for allergy sufferers.

Blame it on a long, wet winter followed by a quick blast of spring that has every single flower and tree bud opening and blooming.

And winds that pick up dust and pollen spores.

Although Wichita doesn't have an official National Allergy Bureau pollen counting station, local pollen forecasts and reports are based on conditions in cities like Kansas City and Tulsa, which do have stations.

The past couple of weeks, Wichita emergency rooms and doctors offices have seen an influx of patients with allergy-related symptoms.

"We are probably seeing two to three times the numbers we would see normally," said Mag Botros, an emergency physician and assistant director of the emergency department at Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita.

"This year is worse. I've had people come in who have never before had allergies."

What compounded the problem was the late arrival of spring. All the major pollinators are budding and blooming within a 10-day period, said Rebecca McMahon, horticulture agent for the Sedgwick County Extension Office.

"There is more pollen just because we are seeing everything in bloom, now," McMahon said. "Everything — the ornamental pears, crab apples, redbuds and dandelions are all in full bloom."

That thin, pale dust covering your cars and patio furniture? That's pollen.

"The number one thing you want to do is reduce your exposure," said Stephen Grindel, a family physician with Via Christi Medical Associates on North Cypress. "It may look pretty and you want to get out there, but it can be poisonous for some people."

It was so bad Tuesday that Elizabeth Newman of Wichita stayed home with allergies.

"I have terrible problems with seasonal allergies, and I'm actually fighting it off," she wrote in an e-mail in response to The Eagle asking for allergy sufferers to talk about their symptoms.

She would have talked by phone, she wrote, but her voice has temporarily disappeared because of allergies.

"Sore dry throat, coughing, burning eyes, I have it all."

Botros said people who have asthma, emphysema and other respiratory problems are especially vulnerable.

"What you need to worry about is the airway, inflammation in the lungs," he said. "People who have asthma and then who have allergies on top of that can become extremely short of breath."

On Tuesday, Kathy Richardson, a lifelong allergy sufferer and Kansan, drove her husband, Jim, from their home in Lindsborg to Wichita to catch a plane at the airport.

"Windy days are the worst. Period," she wrote in an e-mail.

Richardson, 56, wrote that she takes generic fexofenadine each day, has aloe-coated tissues on hand and moderates her schedule to avoid outdoor activities and high stress. But days like Tuesday, she wrote, can do her in.

As her car was buffeted by the winds Tuesday, she wrote that she wondered how well she would have survived the notorious dust storms of the 1930s.

"I would have died, literally," she said. "Kinda scary."