Allergy sufferers got a small break this year because their late-summer season of discomfort started a tad later than usual.
Lawrence allergist Dr. Warren Frick and Kansas University Medical Center fellow Dr. Michael Joseph said the allergy season waited to start and seems to be milder than it was in past years.
Frick said the hay fever season usually starts in the middle of August but this year started toward the beginning of September, bringing a bit of relief to people normally plagued by itchy eyes and runny noses.
Sufferers of hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, this time of year are affected by ragweed, a green weed with a tassle-like top that grows about 6 feet tall.
Joseph explained that trees cause allergy problems in the spring, grasses cause it in the summer and ragweed makes people sneeze in the fall until the first good frost.
"This is probably the biggest season," Joseph said.
Although allergy clinics are as busy as ever, Joseph said that "This year has been a little bit less of a problem. We see tons of patients, but it doesn't seem to have the severity this year."
Joseph said temperature and rainfall influence the pollen count. Rainfall in June and July, he said, determine how much pollen there's going to be later in the year. For hay fever victims, it's better to have less rain in June and July, he said.
Symptoms of hay fever include sneezing, congestion and itching, burning eyes. If someone also suffers from asthma, he or she could experience wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing.
Frick said the symptoms are sometimes mistaken for a cold, but he said most people figure out they have allergies when the symptoms show up the same time each year. About 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by hay fever.
Mornings are the worse time of day for allergy sufferers because wind-borne pollens are released in the greatest numbers between sunrise and 9 a.m. Dry, windy days are worse because the wind can carry pollen long distances, Joseph said. Rainy days are good because the rain washes out the pollen.
Treatment for hay fever runs from antihistamines to topical nasal steroids. People with severe cases may have to have allergy shots.
Joseph said many over-the-counter drugs unfortunately cause drowsiness. Frick said "most people are happy about the development of two new antihistamines," Seldane and Hismanal, which reportedly don't cause drowsiness.