As reported by The Hartford Courant, April 19, 2007.

The Pollen Storm

When the Rain Goes Away, Allergens Will Take Its Place

By Jesse Leavenworth

Warm, sunny days have been elusive this spring, but when they finally arrive, hay fever sufferers may be praying for more rain.

Connecticut allergists say predicting the severity of the spring allergy season is impossible, but all signs point to a profusion of that fine bio-dust that one physician called "the ugly stuff."

"As soon as it gets warm, we expect the pollen counts to be extremely high this year," said Dr. Jason Lee, an allergist and clinical instructor at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Relatively mild winters allow trees to pollinate earlier, and warm, breezy weather spreads that pollen over hundreds of miles. Atlanta and other parts of the Southeast have seen some of the highest pollen counts ever recorded, and heavy bursts of pollen were reported recently in the mid-Atlantic region.

Pollen counts in Connecticut have been low to moderate, but Dr. Christopher C. Randolph, an allergist at Yale University, said he expects the numbers to soar within the next month.

"If the precipitation stops and there's good wind speed and high sunlight, we'll get high pollen counts," Randolph said.

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, affects at least 36 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, throat irritation and itchy, watery, swollen eyes. The condition prompts an estimated 16.7 million office visits to health care providers annually.

Hay fever is caused by the immune system's reaction to allergens that include pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. Trees are the chief pollen spreaders in early spring, followed by grasses in late spring and early summer, and weeds, mainly ragweed, in late summer and early fall.

The peak for Connecticut tree pollination is in May, and birch and oak trees account for much of that pollen. The weather has a lot to do with the dispersion of pollen, which is measured by grains per cubic meter of air. A Memphis allergist, for example, attributed extremely high pollen counts in Tennessee recently in part to cedar pollen blowing in from Texas on a southerly jet stream.

Memphis is No. 26 - "worse than average" - on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's list of 2007 "allergy capitals," the 100 "most challenging places to live with spring allergies."

Hartford, which ranked No. 1 in 2006, is 74th, which means the foundation expects this to be a better-than-average year here. The rankings are based on anticipated pollen levels, historical medication use by allergy patients and their access to treatment by board-certified allergists.

In Connecticut, the spring allergy season lasts about two months, from early April to early June. UConn's Lee said the state has about 30 certified allergists. The problem, he said, is that when the high pollen counts start, people stream to allergists' offices en masse, "and there aren't enough of us to see all the patients at that moment."

Allergists stress that prescription drugs are effective in relieving symptoms and preventing the onset of hay fever. And many people respond well to periodic injections that acclimate the body to hay fever allergens.

The primary message for people with springtime allergies is: You don't have to suffer, said Dr. Louis Mendelson, a clinical professor at the UConn medical school and a partner at the Connecticut Asthma and Allergy Center. "Recognize that you have allergies and you have to use the proper medications and you can prevent the symptoms," Mendelson said. "The most important thing you have to remember is that you put your seatbelt on before a car accident, not after."