Shannon Allegood started Monday off with a quick trip to the roof of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, not for the brisk air or the view, but to take some measurements.
As a pollen counter certified by the National Allergy Bureau, Allegood’s been seeing some strange readings over the last week when she brings the slides back to her office.
“Oh, it’s been really high,” said Allegood, a nursing supervisor with the Allergy and Asthma Clinic of Northeast Georgia. “Normally it does get high this time of year.”
In fact, it was a record-breaking February on the pollen front, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury.
“What we’re seeing right now is just the fact that because of the warm weather we’ve had in February, plants have started breaking their dormancy and are releasing pollen.”
According to Allegood’s calculations, Monday’s pollen count in Gainesville was 302 and last Thursday the number was nearing 675. Colder evenings over the weekend brought the number down, Allegood said, and rain Monday gave temporary relief to allergy sufferers.
Pollen counts between 90 and 1,500 are considered high, and counts over 1,500 are considered extremely high, according to the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. But people have different tolerance levels for pollen.
The Allergy and Asthma Clinic of Northeast Georgia uses a pollen counter on the hospital’s roof that measures the air by rotating a round stick for one out of every 10 minutes. The center is in the process of setting up a Burkhard Counter, which pulls air into the machine and takes a more accurate reading. Once running, it will be the only pollen reader of its kind in Georgia, Allegood said.
Dr. Ronald Beebe, an allergy, asthma and immunology specialist at The Longstreet Clinic, said his office is normally filled this time of year with patients suffering from flu symptoms. And while the sound of sniffles is still in the air, it’s for very different reasons.
“Usually this time of year we see more infection related problems,” he said. “... Already this year we’re starting to see the allergy-related symptoms.”
He said today would be an ideal day for those with bad allergies to take care of yard work or other outdoor jobs because the rain lowered the pollen count. He recommended they avoid activities early in the morning, as pollen settles in the afternoon.
“You’ve got to keep your car windows up even though this time of year everyone wants to keep them down,” he said.
“Keep your windows up at home. Keep your homes tight. If you’ve been outside, you need to change clothes when you get home and at least brush your hair.”
Stooksbury said the higher than normal pollen counts in February does not mean it will be an especially bad pollen season.
He said a strong frost could “reset the clock” and bring a normal pollen season.
The particles currently floating in the air is tree pollen, which usually hits its peak in March and April. Grass pollen will follow shortly after, showing high levels from late spring through the summer. And then weed pollen like ragweed will take over, causing runny noses and itchy eyes from August through the first freeze.
“Living in Georgia is hazardous to your health because you don’t often get a break from the pollen,” Beebe said. “There’s always something in the air.”