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The Sneezing Game : Hay fever: Allergists report patient loads are up 30% over last season. And it may get worse in coming months as grasses and wildflowers continue to blossom.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

First came the heaviest rains in years.

Then hillsides, parks and gardens burst into bloom.

Now Ventura County is experiencing its worst hay fever season in recent memory, physicians say, as trees and molds send pollen and spores into the air--and into the noses, eyes and lungs of the allergy-prone.

Patient loads for some allergists are up 30% contrasted with last year’s sneezin’ season, and the next few months promise to be even worse as grasses and wildflowers continue to blossom.

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“We’ve seen more new patients this month than in the last three years,” Thousand Oaks allergist Donald Unger said.

About one in five county residents will be reaching for the antihistamine on a regular basis, Camarillo allergist Lewis Kanter said. “All that rain and a good bit of sunshine should keep pollination going strong throughout the summer,” he said.

Allergic reactions are caused when pollen meets histamine, usually contained in cells throughout the body that hold “little water balloons,” Kanter said. “When the pollen touches the surface of the cell, the water balloons break out and get into the bloodstream, and that’s how all the trouble starts.”

There’s been a lot more tree pollen in the air this year than usual, said Zeb Dyer, an allergy physician assistant who measures pollen rates at the Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic. The vegetation in Santa Barbara is similar to Ventura, Dyer said.

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On March 10, the reading was 612 pollens per cubic meter, “pretty close to the highest count I’ve ever gotten,” said Dyer, who has been doing the readings for about 20 years. An average count would range from about 25 to 50 pollens per cubic meter, Dyer said.

The high pollen rates are good news for landscaper Manuel Martinez’s business, but bad news for his health.

Martinez said he is suffering from his worst bout of allergies in years. “My nose is plugged, my eyes run, my chest is heavy and sometimes I get a rash on my neck,” he said. “I just don’t feel the same.”

The pollen he stirs up trimming trees and mowing lawns aggravates his condition, said Martinez, who has gardened for 27 years. He said olive, sycamore, oak and walnut trees cause him the most grief.

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“It’s very difficult, but I have to be out there,” Martinez said. “This is what I’ve been doing all my life. I’ve had some of my customers for a very long time and it’s my job to make them happy.”

On Monday, Martinez spent $150 loading up on prescription allergy medicine.

“This is just the beginning,” he said as he opened a bottle of nasal spray. “It’s a long road until the fall.”

Preventive doses of antihistamines can stave off allergic attacks, Kanter said. “If you’re going outside, take them beforehand and they can stop the reaction before it gets going,” he said.

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If that doesn’t work, Kanter said, a visit to the allergist might be necessary, but “a lot of people just use their Kleenex and pills and nose sprays and suffer in silence.”

Tips for Allergy Sufferers

Stay inside early mornings and afternoons, when pollen and mold spores are most prevalent.

Close windows and use an air conditioner or air filter to keep out pollen.

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Use a dehumidifier. Indoor molds thrive in high humidity.

Avoid yard work, or wear a mask.

Avoid vacuuming, which stirs dust.

Landscape with plants that produce little or no pollen.

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Source: The American Lung Assn. of Ventura County


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