Kathy Glover has been battling sneezing, congestion and itchy, watery eyes for four weeks because of pollen from “confused trees” brought on by the unseasonably warm weather.
Glover, of Muscle Shoals, said the onset of this year’s symptoms has been earlier than usual.
“When you live in Alabama, it is almost a given that you will deal with allergies,” she said. “But this year it started so early — right after that first warm spurt confused all the trees.”
Glover hasn’t always been an allergy sufferer but said in the past 15 years she has noticed a change.
“I guess it is one of those things that doesn’t get better with age,” she said.
Glover’s symptoms include the traditional sneezing and runny nose but can lead to sinus headaches that turn into migraine headaches. To treat her allergies, she takes over-the-counter medications such as Mucinex and an antihistamine. She also has to limit her time outdoors when she knows pollen counts are going to be high.
“I try not to let it get me down where I’ll have to miss work, but I will stay indoors some because I’m going to be suffering later if I don’t,” she said.
Glover isn’t alone. Mark Ray, a pharmacist at Avalon Discount Drugs in Muscle Shoals, said he has seen a large influx of customers coming in for over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications in recent weeks.
“I usually see this number of people closer to April,” he said.
Environmental specialist Debra Hopson, of the City of Huntsville Department of Natural Resources, said the mild winter is mostly to blame for early buds and pollen.
“I have actually been seeing some of the pollen that I don’t normally see until later in March,” she said. “The mild winter and really spring-like conditions are causing our trees to think it is time to start pollinating.”
Hopson’s department provides pollen counts for media outlets in north Alabama. She said the area typically sees peak pollen counts at the end of March or the first part of April, but said the pollen season is largely unpredictable.
“It is not something you can set your watch by,” she said. “There are so many different factors that can affect pollen, like how much rain we have when tree pollen is at its peak.”
Hopson also didn’t offer much hope that the early start to pollination could mean an early end to the season.
“My educated guess would be that we are going to have a season that levels out soon, but doesn’t end any earlier,” she said.
That thought is in line with what allergy sufferers seem to be thinking.
“Between allergies and mosquitoes, my customers are beginning to dread the season,” Ray said. “Everyone thinks it is going to be a long season.”
A long season could be hazardous to severe allergy sufferers. Allergies can lead to major respiratory health issues, said Ronda Hood, a registered respiratory therapist and cardiopulmonary services director at Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield.
She said for small children, allergies can lead to sinus drainage that can lead to ear infections, reactive airway disease, pneumonia or bronchitis. For teens and adults, allergies can be a precursor to pneumonia or bronchitis and cause complications with asthma, Hood said.
“Everyone needs to be aware of what they are allergic to and either stay inside as much as possible or wear a dust mask,” she said.
Hood also suggests people with allergies who have to be outside should talk to their doctor about pre-medicating.
“That will keep them from having such a severe reaction,” she said.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.