By Adem Lewis / in , , /


here in Washington DC spring is in the
air and that means pollen is in the air the wind spreads this golden powder
everywhere where it settles on all sorts of surfaces
we also inhale it and that’s when the hay fever starts after 30% of Americans
experience hay fever or allergic rhinitis you may have heard people say
their allergies are getting worse every year
which got us wondering is that true is pollen becoming increasingly problematic
and what can you do to avoid it to answer that we visit an expert whose job
it is to count the grains in the air and we found at how seasonal allergies work
let’s start there with hay fever your immune system goes into overdrive pollen
proteins bind to antibodies on immune cells causing the release of a cocktail
of chemicals that include histamines this means trigger the inflammatory
response that results in the classic allergy symptoms such as runny nose and
sneezing and in rare situations anaphylaxis
most people muddle through seasonal allergies with over-the-counter drugs
like allegra or claritin which are antihistamines these compounds bind to
the same receptors as histamines in our bodies
blocking histamine from triggering your immune response there are also
corticosteroids sprays such as flonase and Nasonex
which reduce inflammation allergy shots which deliver small doses of the
allergen to build up your immunity can also help although they take a while to
kick in your best bet is to avoid the microscopic grains all together and
that’s nearly impossible remember this stuff is everywhere and follows us
around clinging to our feet and clothing you can try however to limit your time
outdoors when pollen levels are high by checking daily reports online and for
that you can thank your local pollen counselors stationed at 51 locations in
the US these experts measure pollen levels at least three times a week
reporting them to local newspapers TV stations the National Weather Service
and the National Allergy Bureau we got in touch with pollen counters at two
stations outside Washington DC in nearby Maryland one is in Fort Detrick run by
Susan Niko’s is see and Mariko s Marx and the other one is in Owings mill run
by David crookston certified by the National Allergy Bureau these pros have
been counting for more than two decades it’s no easy
task as I learned firsthand when I visited David a respiratory therapist I
went to see the process in action and to find out just how bad this allergy
season is spoiler alert it’s not great this is actually the highest count for
this year and it will get higher counting pollen starts with getting a
representative sample from the air to do that David grabs two retractable plastic
rods coated with sticky silicon grease to snag pollen then it’s off to the roof
where a lonely little box called a rotor rod awaits david screws the retractable
sample rods into the bottom of the box where they will extend and spin at 2400
RPM for 60 seconds every 10 minutes after 24 hours he takes the rods back to
the lab where he dunks them in a solution called Cibola stain it’s a
mixture of basic fixing glycerol and ethanol that paints pollen grains red
making them easier to see on the microscope slide now here’s the hard
part there are hundreds of pollen grains on the rods mostly from dozens of
different species of trees and weeds grass pollens and mold spores are
counted too but there aren’t as many of them david says and uses he can hours to
count the grains keeping track of each grain counted while constantly
consulting with what he calls the pollen bible he says it took about three years
to get the hang of it now it only takes him about an hour which is
pretty incredible at least to a newbie but they all look the same
that’s right but there are different okay but they look different to you
they look totally different every pollen grain has a different look Oaks pollen
which is one of the DC areas worse allergenic offenders looks sort of
triangular with little white dots at each point orchard grass releases pollen
that looks like tiny little red melons ragweed those spikey mushrooms in the
middle is one of David’s favorite grains and is responsible for about 75% of weed
allergies around here we won’t have to worry about them until the fall so our
pollen levels particularly high this year I put the question to the pollen
experts I think what happened this year is February and March were well below
average for our pollen levels second week in March we’ve had this high
peak sort of a rollercoaster then again I always say as the weather goes so the
pollen blows basically she says weather conditions like rain or cold
temperatures suppress the trees pollens so when it warms up they release their
grains all at once leading to a spike in pollen levels in d.c although pollen
levels are high right now david says it’s too early to tell if pollen will be
unusually high for the year he had said every year his patients say that it’s a
particularly bad year but Susan says that generally pollen levels are rising
every year likely due to increased levels of co2 in the atmosphere which is
coaxing plants to pump up more of the allergy inducing pollen so there may be
some truth to the complaints I personally have never experienced
allergies but I’d be happy to hear about yours which pollinating plants set off
your allergies let us know in the comments and thanks for watching


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