Weather could worsen al­ler­gies

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Amanda Cuda

Rag­weed sea­son is hang­ing on a lit­tle longer than nor­mal this fall, and so are the sneezes, snif­fles and other symp­toms suf­fered by those al­ler­gic to the plant — at least ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal al­ler­gist.

“We’ve seen a fairly bad pollen sea­son,” said Dr. Ken­neth Back­man, chief of Bridge­port Hospi­tal’s al­lergy sec­tion.

Back­man said the re­cent run of un­sea­son­ably warm tem­per­a­tures helped ex­tend rag­weed sea­son, which typ­i­cally starts in mid-Au­gust and is done by the end of Septem­ber.

“Usu­ally, by now rag­weed sea­son is done, but the warm weather pro­longed it a bit. We’re look­ing at maybe another week or two,” he said.

That’s trans­lated into a bump in pa­tients with rag­weed al­lergy symp­toms, Back­man said, par­tic­u­larly asthma. “We’ve seen quite a bit of that,” he said.

Al­ler­gies hap­pen when the body’s im­mune sys­tem mis­takes a sub­stance for some­thing harm­ful and over­re­acts to it. Al­lergy symp­toms can in­clude sneez­ing, stuffy or runny nose, wa­tery or itchy eyes and other con­di­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the Asthma and Al­lergy Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica, about 30 per­cent of adults and 40 per­cent of chil­dren in the United States have al­ler­gies.

The foun­da­tion re­ports that 10 to 20 per­cent of Amer­i­cans suf­fer from an al­lergy to rag­weed, a weed that grows through­out the country, but is par­tic­u­larly com­mon in East­ern and Mid­west­ern states. One plant can pro­duce up to 1 bil­lion pollen grains. About 75 per­cent of peo­ple who are al­ler­gic to pollen are also al­ler­gic to rag­weed.

It’s true that grow­ing sea­sons have got­ten longer in re­cent years, which might have some im­pact on al­ler­gies, said Wade Elmer, chief sci­en­tist in the depart­ment of plant pathol­ogy and ecol­ogy at the Con­necti­cut Agri­cul­tural Ex­per­i­ment Sta­tion. But he said another pos­si­ble fac­tor is the drought that’s re­cently hit the state.

“Dur­ing droughts, plants are stressed, and when plants are stressed, they tend to re­pro­duce” and spread pollen, Elmer said.

How­ever, another lo­cal doc­tor said what he’s see­ing isn’t out of the norm for the fall al­lergy sea­son.

“I would say we’ve seen our usual fall bump,” said Dr. Mitchell Lester, an al­ler­gist and im­mu­nol­o­gist at Fair­field County Al­lergy, Asthma and Im­munol­ogy As­so­ciates. The prac­tice has of­fices in Nor­walk, Green­wich, Stam­ford and Ridge­field.

He said he wasn’t aware of a pro­longed rag­weed sea­son, and has no­ticed that pollen counts haven’t been ab­nor­mally high. Still, he ob­served, “there are peo­ple out there who have very sig­nif­i­cant symp­toms even when the pollen counts aren’t that high.”

Even Back­man said, de­spite the re­cent bump in ac­tiv­ity, this fall al­lergy sea­son still isn’t as rough as a typ­i­cal spring al­lergy sea­son. “Spring al­ways tends to be very in­tense,” he said.

Daniel Hul­shizer / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pollen on a rag­weed plant.

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