Spring's created a monster allergy season
Beth Santagata can't recall when her seasonal allergies were more agonizing. Her eyes are watering, her nose is stuffy, and there's a scratchiness in her throat.
"It's horrible out there," Santagata, 34, of Holbrook, said. "I have to take allergy medicine; otherwise I can't go outside. And if I don't take the medicine, I can't breathe."
She's far from alone.
Springtime on Long Island is shaping up to be a monster of an allergy season. Heavy rain in March led to an explosion of tree pollen, and a recent dry spell has kept it around.
Outdoor surfaces throughout the region now look as if they've been dusted with cornmeal.
"The oaks, the sweet gums, the elms -- all the deciduous trees are pollinating," said Ryan Santelli, a horticulturist at Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson. "I can see the dust right now from the yew trees, so even the evergreens are pollinating."
Thanks to several weeks of mostly dry weather, pollen is remaining airborne. There hasn't been enough rain to wash it away, said Scott Mori, the Nathaniel Lord Britton curator of botany at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
Mori, a leading expert in tree pollination, said he has no data to declare this season worse than others -- but he acknowledges it's bad. "It's very efficient now for plants to set fruit and seed," Mori said. "It's not a very good time for human beings."
Clinics, meanwhile, have been seeing a virtual conga line of allergy sufferers.
Lawrence Herman, medical director of several group practices in Nassau and Suffolk counties, said supplies of samples of allergy drugs at his offices have been wiped out.
"I walked over to the closet to get an allergy medication and it was bare," said Herman, a physician's assistant. Eyedrops, antihistamines and nasal sprays were all gone.
"This is probably the worst allergy season I've noticed in 19 years," he said.
Dr. Anthony Szema, an allergist who practices in Stony Brook, also reports seeing more patients than usual.
"When there's pollen on the windshields that means we're very busy," he said, noting it's not the pollen that causes symptoms but the body's reaction -- the production of histamines -- that triggers misery.
Dr. Harvey Miller, an Islip allergist and immunologist, said seasonal allergies are just beginning. It's currently the peak of the tree allergy season, but grasses and then ragweed pollen will follow, he said.
Everyone seems aware of the abundance of pollen, but the closest major pollen monitor -- in Brooklyn -- has been broken for more than a week. Normally, samplings from the device are reported to the National Allergy Bureau and posted online. Known as a Burkard Spore Trap, it generally runs 24 hours a day.
"It's a little gizmo that sits on the roof," said Zippi Dvashcq, spokeswoman for Long Island College Hospital. Every 10 minutes or so, she said, a door in the trap opens and a "whirligig" descends. It spins rapidly, effectively trapping any pollen particles on little glass plates.