Calhoun County experiencing high pollen levels, more to come
by Patrick McCreless
Apr 10, 2013 | 6345 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Clumps of pollen gather around the edge of Harper's Lake in White Plains Wednesday morning. (Photo by Trent Penny / The Anniston Star)
Clumps of pollen gather around the edge of Harper's Lake in White Plains Wednesday morning. (Photo by Trent Penny / The Anniston Star)
Fred Jordan stood outside his Anniston business Tuesday, Neat and Clean Car Wash, the black parking lot caked in streaks of yellow.

On the far end of the lot, two employees sprayed and hand-washed a customer's car, removing the yellow gunk encrusted on the vehicle to return it to its proper shade of red.

For the eight-year-old car wash, located on Noble Street, the influx of yellow pollen each spring brings a boost to business.

"Yeah, we see an increase in business," Jordan said. "We offer quick spray downs of cars ... the only time we do spray-downs is during pollen season."

He can probably count on more pollen-covered cars to clean through next month.

Some allergy and plant experts say Calhoun County and much of Alabama are experiencing higher-than-usual levels of pollen that could last later than normal this year, due to a late-March cold snap.

Lisa Samuelson, tree physiologist with the center for longleaf pine ecosystems at the University of Alabama, said pines and oak pollinations are overlapping this year, causing the elevated pollen levels. Samuelson said unseasonably cold weather in late March and into early April disrupted the cycles of many trees.

"The cold slowed pollen shedding, so everything is shifted," Samuelson said. "Pine is so late that it is overlapping with oak and you're seeing a lot of allergies."

She said that due to the shift, pine trees could continue pollinating into May, about a month later than usual.

Dr. Robert Grubbe of Allergy and Asthma Center LLC in Oxford said his business has seen an increase in patients due to the high levels of pollen.

"It's definitely worse than last year ... the pollen and the number of people suffering," Grubbe said. "But it’s not as bad as two years ago."

Grubbe said his center regularly measures the amount of pollen in the atmosphere and that Tuesday, more than 3,000 pollen grains per cubic meter were measured in the air over Oxford.

"That is very high, over 90 grains is high," Grubbe said.

David West, extension coordinator for the Calhoun County Extension Office, agreed that pollen levels are particularly high in the area. West said that pine trees are causing most of the pollen problems.

"What you're seeing now is the pine pollen because it’s larger, but other trees are pollinating at similar times as well," West said.

Grubbe said allergies are caused by the body's immune system.

"Allergies are the immune system attacking the pollen ... it believes the pollen is an infection for no good reason," Grubbe said.

Grubbe said the body produces a toxic chemical to counteract the pollen called histamine, which in turn causes severe itching, red and watery eyes, clogged sinuses and other symptoms. To counteract those symptoms, Grubbe first suggests residents with allergies limit their exposure to pollen as much as possible, such as using a dust mask while doing yard work.

Grubbe said various eye drops, allergy nasal sprays and antihistamines are available to fight symptoms.

"There are a couple of new nose sprays out, but they're only effective if people use them," he said.

Grubbe said many patients tend to not use the nasal sprays regularly as directed.

"It's more natural for people to take a pill, but those are not as effective as nasal sprays," Grubbe said.

Jordan appeared to not need any allergy medication Tuesday, an advantage since his pollen exposure is likely to continue for weeks.

"Lots of people do want their cars washed," Jordan said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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