MARQUETTE - The coming of spring is a welcome relief for many people in the Upper Peninsula after a typically long winter. However, those who suffer from seasonal allergies might not see the spring as so welcoming.
As temperatures rise and grass, trees and plants start to bloom, microscopic particles of pollen are released into the air. For those with allergies, the body's immune system can mistake pollen as being harmful and it will produce antibodies to fight it. Airborne pollen allergens can affect the nose, eyes, lungs and skin and cause upper respiratory problems including sneezing, watery eyes, itchy nose or throat, postnasal drip, wheezing, coughing, eczema and hives.
Dr. Bobby Joseph of the U.P. Asthma and Allergy Center said allergies are often passed down through genetics.
Pollen from trees, grass and weeds start to affect those with seasonal allergies about this time of year. Airborne pollen, invisible to the naked eye, can affect the nose, eyes, lungs and skin and cause upper respiratory problems including sneezing, watery eyes, itchy nose or throat, postnasal drip, wheezing, coughing, eczema and hives. (Journal photo illustration by Taylor Jones)
"You have to choose your parents carefully. There's a strong genetic component and if your mother has allergies you have a high risk, if your father has allergies you have a high risk, if both of them has allergies the risk is additive," he said.
He said 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from allergies.
Currently the area is in the middle of tree pollen season, which lasts from late March until May at which point grass pollen season kicks in. That lasts from mid May to mid-July. The fall allergy season lasts from mid-July to the first frost.
Pollen from flowers is not likely to cause allergic reactions because it is too heavy and sticky to be carried in the air. Pine pollen is also too large to be inhaled so it's unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
Pollen can travel hundreds of miles on the wind, so even if the U.P. still has snow, pollen may come from as far away as lower Michigan or northern Wisconsin.
"There really isn't any part of the country that is pollen free. It used to be Arizona and these other desert areas didn't have any pollen but after people moved in they started planting trees not native to the area so you do have pollens all over the country.
"There are certain parts of the country considered pollen capitals. These include the Grand Rapids area, Indianapolis and Harrisburg, Pa. The pollen season in the southern United States is much longer than the north because of our long winters," he said.
There's no way to avoid pollen but there are precautions people with allergies can take. If indoors they should keep the doors and windows closed shut and turn on the air conditioning. Those affected by pollen should not hang their laundry outside to dry as pollen can easily stick to the wet fabric. Joseph advised people to take showers before they go to bed to wash off any pollen on their bodies or out of their hair.
People with mild allergies can take over the counter antihistamines such as Clarien, Allegra or Zyrtec, or over- the-counter eyedrops and nasal sprays.
For more severe allergies, people should talk to their doctor and can treat their symptoms with prescription antihistamines, eyedrops and nasal steroid sprays.
"Even though the word steroid is scary, prescription nasal steroid sprays are quite safe and highly effective. It's the gold standard of treatment," Joseph said, adding they are so safe they can be used with children as young as 2.
Other methods of treatment include nasal strips or a neti pot.
"That's an excellent, inexpensive way to wash pollen out of your nasal passages. But if you are going to do these washes, do washes first before you put medications up your nose," he said.
If medications and environmental control measures are ineffective in treating allergy symptoms, people can get allergy desensitization shots from their doctor, Joseph said. They start out as weekly injections over a six-month period.
As the person builds up immunity the number of injections are scaled back to one a month to maintain the level of tolerance for three to five years and then injections are no longer required.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.