MARIETTA, Ga. -- If you've had the sniffles lately, you're not alone. It's only the beginning of March and already, allergy season is in full swing. Allergists warn that this may only be the beginning of a long and miserable allergy season.
"Because the pollen counts have gotten so high, so early, people are starting to have more symptoms," said Dr. Stanley Fineman, an Allergist with the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic.
It turns out it's not just people who are enjoying this unseasonably warm weather, the trees are enjoying it, too, kicking off an early pollen season. Right now cedar and maple trees are the major contributors to the high pollen count.
Dr. Fineman says medical studies are showing that generally warmer trends coupled with an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air are reasons for a longer and more miserable allergy season. "The seasons are longer, the pollen is more potent and there's more of it, so it can really be a problem for patients with allergies," Fineman said.
This year, like every year, the Atlanta Allergy Clinic is recording the daily concentration of pollen in the atmosphere. But this year, the Clinic is updating the way it charts the pollen, assigning a value of "Low", "Moderate", "High", and "Extremely High" descriptions to different levels of pollen.
Pollen Count Chart (in pollen particles per cubic meter of air):
- 0-14 = Low
- 15-89 = Moderate
- 90-1,499 = High
- 1,500+ = Extremely High
In previous years, any count higher than 125 particles of pollen was considered "Extremely High". Now that threshold has be lifted significantly to 1,500 particles per cubic meter of air. "So we can directly compare our pollen counts that we get here in Atlanta to pollen counts in other areas of the country," Fineman said.
Monday's pollen count was 129. That puts it in the "High" category.
Dr. Fineman also worries that the early onset of pollen season could end up being a one-two punch for allergy sufferers. If a cooling trend causes a decrease in the amount of pollen in the air for an extended period of time, symptoms could be even worse when the pollen returns.
"You become sensitized to it," Dr. Fineman said. "So when you're sensitized and re-exposed, you can get an even more violent allergic reaction."
Dr. Fineman says some over-the-counter allergy medications can be effective for minor allergy sufferers. But, if you're one of those folks who suffers from severe symptoms, you may need to see an allergist.