SIOUX CITY | For anyone wrapping up summer while afflicted with seasonal allergies, fall can’t arrive soon enough.
The culprit? Pollen -- the microscopic grains released by plants, destined for other plants and carried sometimes hundreds of miles by wind only to end up in eyes, noses and throats.
Ragweed and pigweed along with mold and nettle will undoubtedly spur sneezes, runny noses and the all-too-familiar itchy eyes during the next several weeks, peaking around Labor Day.
But seasonal allergy sufferers across the region shouldn’t expect anything worse than what they've known the past several years, according to local pollen counters.
“This time of year the ragweed is starting. Usually by the 14th or 15th of August the patients are starting to get pretty miserable,” said Rita Hartel, who has counted pollen for The Allergy and Asthma Center in Bellevue, Neb., for 25 years.
Hartel said that every year, one weather service or another invariably predicts the worst season ever for allergies, but even in spite of the region’s late season this year, “This is about normal for us.”
Ragweed, a common Siouxland weed that can grow almost anywhere, typically releases spores from August to November and produces some of the largest amounts of allergenic pollen, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Many allergy experts, pointing to rising temperatures and global warming, are saying rain and heat levels in the Midwest this year have created perfect conditions for a heavy ragweed season.
But Siouxland pollen levels, like booms and busts in the economy, have proved to be a fickle beast.
“I don’t think there’s any real data that pollen counts are getting worse,” said Brian Brennan, allergist at Brennan Allergy Clinic in Beresford, S.D. “They do have a little data that may suggest the pollen season (over time) is starting a little earlier, possibly because of climate change.”
Data from the Siouxland District Health Department show that over the same 10-day periods in late August and early September since 2003, total pollen levels have not shown a significant trend.
For example, a 10-day average from 2003 registered at about 208 grains per cubic meter, but that same average dipped as low as 121 in 2009 and surged to 278 last year.
The same erratic behavior proved true for ragweed, which has seen similar 10-day averages indexed as high as 156 grains per cubic meter in 2004 and as low as 70 in 2006. Last year’s average was about 130.
“If you get a hot, dry, windy day there will be more pollen out in the air because it dries it out and the wind blows it around," Hartel said. “The rain will knock it down some a day or two but then it will come right back up.”
Brennan said although ragweed rears its head “almost like clockwork,” many of his patients come to him with a laundry list of allergies and deal with them all year long.
“Our patients usually feel that every year is about the same,” he said. “But people with allergies, I think a lot of them feel like every year is the worst.”
Rick Wollman, of Sioux City, is among those whose allergies haven’t had an off-season since 1999.
“I’m typically on allergy medication 12 months out of the year,” he said.
As someone who enjoys doing outside work, Wollman said it’s important for him to stay ahead of his allergies, and he does so by taking one allergy pill and two nasal sprays daily.
“If you don’t have your allergies under control, it’s like having a cold all the time,” he said. “You’re sneezing all the time, your nose runs, your eyes itch, you’re stuffed up.”
Brennan said rather than trying an over-the-counter drug, people with symptoms may do better to visit an allergist first. He said the best thing to do on your own is take an antihistamine.
To help prevent the onset of allergies, Brennan said to run an air conditioner more often at home, keep windows closed, avoid hanging laundry outside and take a shower before bed to wash out any loose pollen.
The “most involved and most effective” action, Brennan said, is to receive an allergy injection. However, he warned the process is ongoing and can be time-consuming at first.
Veteran seasonal allergy sufferers like Wollman might simply suggest finding what works best for you.
“For me, it’s easier to pop a pill in the morning and a couple sprays, and I’m good to go,” he said.