Spring isn’t the only thing in the air across East Texas.
Grasses, flowers and trees blooming in the warmer weather we currently are enjoying produce a fine layer of pollen that is coating cars and everything else across the region.
Pollen levels, often jokingly referred to as the ‘‘snowfall of the south,’’ are high across the region, as they typically are this time of year. The anticipated pollen count for today (on a scale that goes up to 12) is 9.4. Saturday’s pollen count is expected to be 11.
Higher pollen counts prolong the misery of the estimated 50 million Americans for whom spring is a punishment, not a pleasure. An airborne allergen, pollen is one of the most common allergens in the United States. Various trees, grasses and weeds create pollen. And that, unfortunately, means itchy, watery eyes, sneezing fits and nasal congestion.
To make matters worse, exposure to pollen also can make one more susceptible to COVID-19, and that isn’t just a problem for people with allergies, new research released March 9 shows. Pollen can suppress how the human immune system responds to viruses by interfering with proteins that signal antiviral responses in cells lining the airways. That can leave people more susceptible to a whole host of respiratory viruses, including the flu virus and other SARS viruses.
The study found that about 44% of the variability in COVID-19 case rates was related to pollen exposure, often in synergy with humidity and temperature, and that infection rates tended to rise four days after a high pollen count. And pollen exposure isn’t just a problem for people with hay fever, according to the study: It’s a reaction to pollen in general.
So what precautions can we take? Try to stay indoors on days with high pollen counts to limit exposure as much as possible. And when outdoors, wear a mask during pollen season. Almost any mask designed for allergies will work to keep out pollen grains. If you’re sneezing and coughing, you should continue to wear a mask that’s effective against the coronavirus, too. And bear in mind that if you’re asymptomatic and have COVID-19, all that sneezing increases your chances of spreading it. Mild cases of COVID-19 also could be mistaken for allergies.
While there is no cure-all for seasonal allergies, popular over-the-counter medications can provide relief for the most common symptoms. However, you should always consult your doctor about what medications may work best for your symptoms before taking any. In extreme cases, your doctor may try cortisone therapy or vaccines that contain pollen extracts.
Allergy symptoms tend to vary from person to person, depending on what is causing the allergies and the severity of the allergic reaction, according to emedtv.com, a medical reference website. Allergy symptoms can range from mild ones (itching, sneezing or eczema) to more severe ones (hives, wheezing and shortness of breath).
■ Popular over-the-counter antihistamines can provide relief from sneezing, runny noses and irritated, watery eyes by blocking the action of histamine, a chemical in the body that triggers congestion and upper respiratory discomfort.
■ Decongestants like pseudoephedrine relieve a stuffy nose by narrowing the blood vessels in nasal passages so you can breathe more easily. PSEs are located behind the pharmacy counter because they are an ingredient used to cook methamphetamine.
■ Over-the-counter eye drops are specifically designed to treat allergy symptoms can be found in any drug store and can be effective at relieving redness and washing away allergens.
■ Finally, according to some, certain foods you may already be enjoying have allergy-fighting properties. Others swear by home remedies, such as eating raw, local honey.
Other tips for helping steer clear of pollen are:
■ Avoid the outdoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.
■ Save outside activities for late afternoon or after a heavy rain, when pollen levels are lower.
■ Keep windows in your home and car closed to lower exposure to pollen. To keep cool, use air conditioners and avoid using window and attic fans.
■ Be aware that pollen can also be transported indoors on people and pets.
■ Dry your clothes in an automatic dryer rather than hanging them outside. Otherwise, pollen can collect on clothing and be carried indoors.
■ If you buy trees for your yard, look for species that do not aggravate allergies, such as: crepe myrtle, dogwood, fir, palm, pear and redwood.