By Jim Simpson
Springtime in Georgia. Ah yes, the season of renewal and rebirth. Flowers bloom from early daffodils and azaleas, to dogwoods and cherry trees. Warmer weather, at times unpredictable — you need a jacket in the morning, and shorts and sandals by the afternoon — brings people out of hibernation to dig around in the yard, fire up the old riding mower, and chat with neighbors over the fence. Arts festivals abound, farmers markets pop up in town centers, food trucks roll out regularly on Fridays — everyone takes a collective, cleansing breath. Everything is in bloom!
And that’s where the trouble begins. We know it’s coming. It happens every April and May, sometimes into June. The powdery yellow scourge of the season. Pollen!
My wife and I moved from Tampa, Florida, to Gwinnett County in May of 1993. It was wonderful. We’d been married just over a year, still newlyweds really, and were excited by the endless possibilities and sights in our new home. We were five years away from having kids, so we were free! We could do anything, go anywhere! And then it happened. I woke up one morning and didn’t recognize the creature in the mirror with the swollen face staring back through puffy, shimmering eyes and snot oozing from its nose. Co-workers had warned me, but I brushed it off. It’s just a cold, I thought. But deep down I knew. The beautiful flowers and oh-so-many gorgeous trees had a sinister side, and I was firmly in their grip.
As a seasoned Gwinnettian, I’ve come to accept this slight inconvenience every year, even though some years are worse than others. Fortunately, most over-the-counter (OTC) medications work fairly well enough to stave off the effects of my seasonal allergies to pollen and dust exposure for a few months.
A study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, showed that those who take OTC medications aren’t quite satisfied with the results. In a study of 1,000 people surveyed, most reported moderate to severe symptoms in the spring, but generally managed their seasonal allergies with OTC oral medications.
Some people aren’t so lucky. Those who suffer from perennial allergic rhinitis (nasal congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing, drainage, cough, headaches, and swelling associated with allergic conjunctivitis) experience symptoms year-round, which require prescription medications from a professional allergist.
After all these years, I’ve become resigned to this springtime ritual. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I perk up during the local weather report for the day’s pollen count and then check my supply of OTC allergy meds. To go even further down the rabbit hole, allergy sufferers can check Pollen.com. The site provides detailed information on nationwide pollen counts, as well as research on plants to understand allergy triggers, five-day local allergy forecasts, and the ability to sign up for daily allergy emails or to download apps and create diaries.
How exactly are pollen counts collected and determined? A company called IQVIA manufactures a device called The Rotorod Sampler, which has been used to collect pollen across the country for over 30 years. The Rotorod, usually set up in fields or rooftops, has tiny spinning rods mounted atop a metal tripod. The rods are coated with a sticky silicone material, which the pollen sticks to and can be collected and measured later.
If we step back from our selfish allergic problems, we realize that pollen is a fact of life. It’s life itself, actually, because it’s how plants reproduce. And that’s beautiful — ACHOO! — yes, it’s all beautiful.