Bumper crop of allergies on Long Island

Christine Courbanou-Bayer, of Bohemia, is an allergy sufferer

Christine Courbanou-Bayer, of Bohemia, is an allergy sufferer and says since trees are in full bloom she has been experiencing the worst allergy season to date. (April 6, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz)

Christine Courbanou Bayer could handle the sneezing and stuffy, runny noses of past allergy seasons.

But this year, with itchy, watery eyes added to the mix, her misery has multiplied.

"This early spring has been the worst that I could remember," she said.


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And it's come to this: Bayer, 51, a human-resources administrator from Bohemia, fretting Friday afternoon that her allergy medication might wane, forcing her to pop out her contact lenses. She'd left her glasses at home.

While most Long Islanders relished a mild winter and the record-breaking warmth of March, a bumper crop of allergy sufferers -- old and new -- are paying the price.

Trees and flowers are blooming earlier, putting more pollen in the air for this time of year.

Saturday through Monday, the scale that rates the severity of allergy symptoms in the area is expected to stop just short of torturous.

Early spring temperatures accelerated the normal pollination phase of most trees, said Dr. Vincent Bonagura, chief of allergy and immunology for Cohen Children's Medical Center in the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

The pollen spike brought patients to his office as soon as February, instead of the usual late March or early April influx.

Another major contributor to the mass suffering, experts say, is the region's dearth of rain. Precipitation in March was 3.45 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service based in Upton, and April has been relatively dry so far.

"Every day it doesn't rain, the pollen count climbs," said Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist who also teaches at SUNY Downstate Medical Center at Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn.

Rain can be an allergy sufferer's friend, he said, washing pollen out of the air. That effectively resets the pollen count "back to zero for a day or two."

Bassett also warns that the early spring doesn't necessarily mean there will be an early end to the pollen overload.

Continued mild, dry weather, he said, is "extending the suffering."

On Friday, the Pollen.com allergy sufferers' index for Islip offered little hope for sufferers -- at least for the next few days.

Saturday's ranking is expected to hit 9.3, with 12 being the most severe in terms of symptoms. Sunday will get worse, reaching 11, with Monday edging up to 11.1, according to the website run by IMS Health Inc., an information provider for the health care industry.

With more pollen in the air, more people are experiencing symptoms, including those who hadn't in the past, experts said.

Dr. John E. Rooney, a Massapequa allergy specialist, said he saw 10 new "miserable" patients on Thursday. None had been to an allergist before.

Rooney said allergy conditions haven't peaked yet, meaning things will likely get worse before they get better.

"I wish I had better news for allergy sufferers," he said.

When Bayer's symptoms struck last month -- "a good month" earlier than usual -- she thought, perhaps optimistically, that she was getting a cold.

Now she's wondering whether she'll even get the usual June reprieve from all the sneezing and congestion.

"I don't know what's going to happen this year," she said. "It's really tough out there for us allergy sufferers."

SNEEZE SEASON

COMMON ALLERGY SYMPTOMS

Sneezing

Congestion

Red, itchy, teary eyes

Itchy throat


MAJOR POLLEN SOURCES

These trees produce the most: maple, elm, oak, birch, juniper, ash, cottonwood, pine, beech


REDUCING EXPOSURE

Keep windows closed, in the car and at home

Remove shoes when entering your house

Wash hair at night

Wear glasses or sunglasses outside; goggles when biking or running

Source is composite of experts

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