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Allergy symptoms earlier, fiercer for sufferers in Toledo area

Weather in last 2 years boosts pollen counts


Jacob Conine of East Toledo is allergic to pollen, grass, and ragweed. is symptoms have worsened over the last two years despite trying numerous medications and have led to emergency room visits.

The Blade/Lori King
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Spring and summer have long been miserable seasons for Jacob Conine, but the last two years have been especially bad for the 18-year-old East Toledoan.

With allergies to tree and other pollen, grass, and ragweed, Mr. Conine had symptoms each of the past two summers that sent him to the emergency room. Last year, Mr. Conine was working a summer job when his eyes got so itchy and watery that he needed emergency treatment. Other symptoms he experiences include a runny nose and itchy throat.

"It seems like the last two to three years, they've really been ramping up a lot," Mr. Conine said of his allergies. "It seems like spring has been starting earlier and lasting longer."

He added: "I just want to sleep all day."

Mr. Conine's allergist, Dr. M. Razi Rafeeq, said a combination of factors is making the period for seasonal allergies longer and more intense in recent years. Chief among them is the weather, including increased severe thunderstorms that can stir up pollen, said Dr. Rafeeq, president of the Toledo Allergy Society with offices in Maumee and Oregon.

Not only did warm spring weather start earlier this year, along with pollen and mold, but last year's fall lasted longer, Dr. Rafeeq said.

Frost ends the misery for those allergic to ragweed, but that didn't happen until November last year, he said.

Dr. John Winder, a fellow allergist and society member, said oak trees usually don't pollinate until May, but that has started. Besides his Sylvania practice, Dr. Winder directs the Toledo Center for Clinical Research, which tracks pollen counts.

U.S. pollen counts are going up, Dr. Rafeeq said, and what pollen is being released is more potent and allergenic. That is caused by more plant-feeding carbon dioxide in the environment because of higher temperatures, he said.

Dr. Rafeeq said another possible factor is that many municipalities nationwide plant pollen-producing male plants and trees so they do not bear fruit or make seeds.

They do so to avoid messy and potentially dangerous conditions when fruit and seeds fall, he said.

In Toledo, the only species that the city intentionally purchases as males are gingkos, which grow tall and columnar and are good for downtown and other areas where space is a concern, said Dennis Garvin, commissioner of Toledo's division of parks and forestry.

Female gingko trees produce a smelly fruit, he said.

"Their fruit just is noxious," Mr. Garvin said. "It smells terrible."

For seasonal symptoms, which can include sneezing, congestion, itchy ears, and coughing, over-the-counter allergy medications are helpful, Dr. Rafeeq said.

People can take a number of steps to help keep symptoms at bay, Dr. Rafeeq said.

Those with birch or other tree pollen allergies, for example, also may have reactions to some uncooked fruit and vegetables, he said.

Seasonal allergy sufferers should keep windows closed, use air conditioning in homes and vehicles, make sure vehicle air conditioning is in recirculate mode, shower and wash clothes after being outside, and stay indoors during early morning hours when pollen is released, Dr. Rafeeq said.

Dr. Winder said another time to avoid being outdoors is in the evening, when pollen starts returning to the ground.

Those exposed to pollen should immediately splash water onto their faces, upper hairlines, and eyebrows, he said.

It also helps to take an antihistamine before going outside, Dr. Winder said.

For patients such as Mr. Conine, whose symptoms worsened despite trying numerous medications, injections will help prevent allergies from progressing to potentially life-threatening asthma, Dr. Rafeeq said.

This year, patients started coming into Toledo area allergists' offices for shots and other treatments about a month earlier than normal because of the warm weather, Dr. Rafeeq said.

He has more patients and more with complications such as sinus infections, he said.

Dr. Winder said he has more pediatric patients.

"We've always seen kids, but it seems as if the percentage is increasing," he said.

Dr. Rafeeq said he has patients in their 50s and 60s who had seasonal allergy problems years ago, got better, but are having problems again because the season is more intense.

In past years, some patients who did not realize they have seasonal allergies treated themselves with over-the-counter cold medications, but they are no longer working, he said.

"This year, the medications that they've taken have not helped," said Dr. Rafeeq, adding that allergies can affect sleep or concentration.

"Allergies are not just something to sneeze at."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: or 419-724-6087.

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