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Spring arrives with a pollen vengeance
Pollen count hits new record in metro Atlanta
Flowering peach trees and blooming cherry trees (background) have helped fill the air with pollen. - photo by Tom Reed

What's making you sneeze

Blossoming trees are the main culprits in high pollen counts that are expected as we head into spring. Watch out particularly for the following:

  • Oak
  • Hickory
  • Pecan
  • Maple
  • Sweetgum

Tips to stop sneezing

  • Limit early-morning outdoor activity
  • Take a shower soon after working or playing outdoors
  • Keep your car and house windows shut and run the air conditioner

Ah, spring, the time to open windows and let in fresh air.

That late-winter temptation might not be advisable, especially as the winter that wasn't has ushered in an early spring and with it, extreme amounts of pollen.

"When you have a winter that's not very cold, the pollen tends to come out earlier and it produces more than usual," said Dr. Ronald Beebe, allergist with The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.

"And we've had so many warm days that (pollen) goes crazy."

That was evident on Monday, with metro Atlanta shattering the pollen count record.

The Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, the National Allergy Bureau's only certified pollen counting station in the Atlanta area, said the pollen count was 8,164 particles per cubic meter of air.

The previous record was 6,013, set on April 12, 1999.

"Around 50 to 100 is considered high," Beebe said. "When you see it in the thousands, it is off the scale."

Most troublesome for allergy sufferers this time of year is tree pollen. Look out particularly for oak, mulberry, sycamore, sweetgum and birch.

The yellow stuff that covers cars — pine pollen — isn't what gets people to sneezing, sniffling, rubbing their eyes and clearing throats.

"People are just not sensitive to it," Beebe said. "All the (allergens) that are invisible is why everyone is miserable. Hickory, pecan and oak are the most allergenic tree pollens in North Georgia, and those are the ones you don't see."

The pine pollen is an indicator, however, that the kinds of pollen that make your eyes itch have arrived.

And here's the thing: While some people aren't allergic to pollen at all, those who are can't really flee from it.

"People always say, ‘I don't have any trees in my yard' or ‘I don't live near a pecan tree,'" Beebe said. "Those things don't matter. Pollen is wind-carried, so it can come from hundreds of miles away and still cause terrible problems."

The Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic does have a few tips for reducing exposure to pollen: keeping windows up and the air conditioning on, avoiding outdoor activities until early evening and taking a shower before going to bed.

A dry area makes conditions worse, said Bill Murphey, the state climatologist.

"If we don't have a lot of wash-out or precipitation, then that pollen continues to circulate," he said.

Rain may be on the way later this week, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

A slight chance for thundershowers is in the outlook today through Sunday.

"We may get a little relief late Friday and early Saturday," Murphey said.

"Then we'll get the pollen back on our cars Sunday and Monday. That's the thing: It just sort of repeats itself after you get it under control."


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