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Record-breaking allergen numbers result in wheezy fall allergy season

Saturday, September 18, 2010 | 4:39 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Ragweed pollen is more prevalent this fall than it has been in the past 10 years, according to data collected by the St. Louis County Department of Health.

"It was one of the worst ragweed seasons we've seen in a few years," said Scott Schultz of Providence Urgent Care.

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Ragweed and mold are the two primary causes of fall allergies, said A.L. Barrier, director of MU Health Care's ENT and Allergy Center. Spring allergies are usually caused by blossoming trees.

"The fall season and the spring season are usually our worst times," he said.

The allergies will continue to affect Columbia residents until the first hard frost of the year, usually between mid-October and early November, Barrier said.

"Ragweeds will keep producing more pollen and keep producing more plants until they're shut down by the first frost," he said.

The increase in fall allergies was caused by a wetter year, Barrier said. The large amount of rain led to both the plants and the mold flourishing.

The spring allergy season was also much worse than usual, said Robert Nicolotti, manager of the St. Louis Department of Health's Environmental Health Labs. This year's fall allergies started earlier than usual as well, he said.

"We broke some records this spring, and it's pretty much continued throughout the pollen season," Nicolotti said.

Data prepared by Nicolotti showed that there have already been 11 days with more than 100 grains of ragweed pollen per cubic meter in the air during August and September. In 2009, the number stood at five.

Barrier said that the relative amount of pollen in the air is largely a result of the amount of rain that falls, which varies year to year.

"It's just the happenstance of our weather patterns," Barrier said.

There are three ways to approach treating allergies, said Mahlon Van Delden of the Missouri Ear, Nose and Throat Center. He suggested the following approaches, in order of the severity of the response to allergies:

  • Reducing exposure to allergens in the environment.
  • Over the counter medication, like Loratidine (Claratin) or Cetirizine (Zyrtec).
  • Allergy shots and allergy drops.

"We don't like to have our asthma patients driving through the ragweed fields in a convertible this time of year," Van Delden said of the first approach.

Most people who suffer from spring allergies will also be affected by allergies during the fall, though spring allergies are slightly more common, Barrier said. Summer allergies from grasses can affect some people, though fewer than spring and fall, he said.


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