Allergies blossom in

by Melanie Evans

Late nights and spring break hangovers aren’t the only culprits causing the red eyes and stuffy heads around campus.
The early arrival of spring might be a welcome relief for sun-deprived Minnesotans, but the missing snow and warmer air means more headaches, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes for allergy sufferers.
Minnesota’s early thaw in 1998 made the history books as the second warmest winter on record. The result: An early growing season means a hasty arrival of more irritating molds and pollen, said Deborah Brown, associate professor in the Department of Horticultural Science.
“Everything is accelerated,” she said. Brown added that it also spells a longer growing season, expanding the irritative period.
Tree pollen and molds are the spring’s most prominent allergens. Maple, box elder and birch trees are the first to bloom in mid-March and early April. A second wave begins in late May and early June with the beginning of the grass season. A third assault on the senses occurs as a result of the weeds of July and August.
The wet, warm spring is ideal for molds, grasses and weeds, according to the National Allergy Bureau, a national network that tracks and reports pollen and mold spore counts.
Boynton Health Service, which runs an allergy clinic, has reported an influx of patients complaining of allergy-related symptoms, said Sheryl Daubenberger, the service’s nursing supervisor. This year’s patients are arriving slightly earlier than usual, she added.
Pollen counts taken by the University indicate an early arrival of pollens and molds, said Dr. Malcolm Blumenthal, professor in the departments of Medicine and Pediatrics and director of the asthma and allergy office.
All anecdotal evidence points to a more intense allergy season, but whether the season will actually be rougher this year remains to be seen, said Blumenthal, who has worked in the field for 25 years.
Avoiding the source of an allergic reaction is the best medicine, said Dr. William Schoenwetter, director of the asthma and allergy research center at the Park Nicollet Clinic and School of Medicine faculty member.
But closing windows and doors and remaining inside on windy, dry days might not be a realistic solution for Minnesotans who cherish the spare spring and summer months, he said.
A new generation of drugs in recent years might be the best alternative for relief, Schoenwetter said. A proliferation of new allergy medications and treatments that are not sedatives are now available by prescription.
For milder cases the corner pharmacy could provide relief. But for more severe reactions, over-the-counter drugs can cause drowsiness or slow reaction time, and are potentially harmful when mixed with alcohol, he said.
Ten to 12 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, Schoenwetter said. Another 8 percent endure year-round allergies typically caused by dust mites or animal dander.
Others experience allergic reactions and do not realize it, he said. Runny noses and stuffy heads are often mistaken for seasonal colds.
“Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish,” he said.
It is possible to develop allergies over time, Schoenwetter added. Having a genetic history of allergies in one’s family increases the chance to develop an intolerance. Students with one allergic parent have a 35 percent chance of developing a reaction later in life. If both parents have allergies, the odds climb to a 65 percent chance.
Students from foreign countries or other regions can develop allergies after a sensitization period of two to three years, Blumenthal said.
Moving to new climates could provide a brief respite from allergies. But a second flare-up caused by new irritants might occur for the emigrants after bodies adjust.
“It’s difficult, I like to say, to escape yourself,” Blumenthal said, laughing.