Q-and-A: MU allergist ties drought to brutal pollen season

Monday, August 27, 2012 | 4:06 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The combination of a warm winter and dry summer has created misery for allergy sufferers. The Missourian caught up with Al Barrier, an allergist with MU Health Care,  to explain what is making noses so wet when the air is so dry.

Q: Why have allergies been so intense this year?

A: We didn’t have much of a freeze last year, and, therefore, the mold did not get frozen out, being retained at eight times normal concentration. Because of this, it’s eight times worse than it usually would be. Now, because we had the drought, the mold spores dried out, keeping them in the air at this concentration through the summer, causing a very bad summer season.

Q: What else is causing the problem?

A: We have large loads of the pollens, including grass and ragweed that continue floating and are more intense when there’s not water in the air.

Q: What effects do droughts and/or dry weather have on allergies?

A: Allergens don’t sink to the ground; they stick in the air and stay afloat, worsening allergies and reactions from those who are allergic.

Q: Do certain types of weather affect different types of allergies?

A: In terms of reducing the pollen load, water is important. The fall tends to be somewhat dry, so ragweed is somewhat intense. If the drought continues, ragweed pollen will be drier in the air, and the load will be worse.

Q: In a typical Missouri-weather summer, when is a peak time for bad allergies?

A: In the summer, we mainly have the summer weeds and the grasses because they pollinate. Some of the minor weeds and grasses release their pollens into the air in the later part of the summer, but the summer pollination is usually over in mid-August.

Q: Are certain ages affected by allergies more so than others when certain weather occurs? If so, how?

A: Allergy is an immune issue from a minor loss of down-regulation in the cells. It has to do with a very minor genetic defect with allergen presentation in the immune system that’s very complex as far as the sequencing. People at various ages will have varying amounts of allergic disease. However, weather conditions affect all allergic people equally, regardless of age.

Q: What would you suggest to those suffering from these bad allergies to manage their allergic reactions?

A: People that are truly allergic might want to get a mask when they are going to be around the outdoor air. Covering yourself up allows less of the allergens in so they can move further down in the body, reducing the load in the body. Also, nasal saline helps the allergens be knocked out of the nose. Air purifiers are useful in the house and bedroom. 

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