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Grass pollen grabs allergy sufferers.

Byline: TIM CHRISTIE The Register-Guard

Got itchy, watery eyes, a scratchy throat, and a chest that feels like it's caught in a vise? Welcome to the joys of the grass pollen season in the southern Willamette Valley.

Allergy sufferers have packed local emergency rooms in recent days as grass pollens fill the air in the Eugene-Springfield area.

"We've been hammered by people with allergies for four or five days," said Tom Hambly, manager of McKenzie-Willamette Hospital's emergency department.

It's a similar situation at Sacred Heart Medical Center, where 20 to 40 people a day have been showing up seeking relief from itchy eyes, sneezing, congestion and breathing problems, emergency physician Dr. Geoff Gordon said.

"I'm not totally sure why, but it must be a bad year for allergies," he said.

In the southern end of the Willamette Valley, most years seem to be a bad year for allergies, particularly during grass pollen season, which runs from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July.

Pollen from commercial grass seed farms in Lane and Linn counties gets most of the blame for allergy symptoms this time of year, said Judy Moran, a nurse at Allergy & Asthma Research Group in Eugene.

The tree pollen season starts earlier in the spring and can prime a person's immune system so it takes less grass pollen to cause symptoms, she said

At the research group's clinic downtown, staff members measure daily pollen counts, collecting the material on a greased microscopic slide behind a vacuum suction port.

Each day, the slide is removed and the number of pollens are counted manually by research nurse Jean Jensen.

Last Saturday seemed particularly bad for allergy sufferers.

Pollen counts weren't extraordinarily high, but Moran said cool weather and rain exacerbated the problem.

Allergy researchers have recently learned that moisture causes the pollen particles to break apart, exposing microscopic granules that can easily be inhaled, Moran said.

"The number of pollens may not be that high, but the moisture causes the pollens to fall apart and respirable particles get released into the air," she said. "People have tremendous exposure and tremendous symptoms because of the way the pollens break apart."

Moran was hesitant to say whether this allergy season was worse than usual.

"It's always the worst season for somebody," she said. "It kind of depends on how allergic you are."


Here are ways to combat symptoms of grass-pollen and other allergies.

LIMIT EXPOSURE: The more time you spend outdoors exposed to pollens, the greater the symptoms. If you're going to spend the afternoon or evening outside, spend the morning indoors. Activities such as exercise or riding in a car with windows down increase exposure to pollens as well.

MEDICATE: Regular antihistamines are available over the counter, and nonsedating antihistamines, such as Claritin and Allegra, are available by prescription. Eye drops and nasal sprays are available both over the counter and by prescription.

GET OUT OF TOWN: Head to the coast or the Coast Range, or take a drive up the McKenzie to get relief.

GET TESTED: If allergies are a persistent problem, you could get skin-tested by an allergist and go through immunotherapy, which is a series of shots of the stuff you're most allergic to.

- Judy Moran, Allergy & Asthma Research Center
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Title Annotation:Wheezin' season: Pollen counts aren't especially high, but emergency room visits are up.; Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 12, 2002
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