Pollen levels reach 10 times normal level

Area pollen levels have soared to as high as 10 times the average level this spring, which has led to an increase in sinus pain for many and more spending on treatments to ease seasonal allergies.

According to recent rankings by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Dayton is No. 7 on the list of worst allergy areas in the country. The area was ranked poorly for pollen scores, medications per sufferers and the number of board-certified allergists per patient.

“This year, in comparison to years past, we’ve had a steady flow of pollen exposure,” said Charles DeBrosse, physician at the Allergy & Asthma Centre of Dayton. “The pollen hit later but much stronger, and later in the season the counts were much higher. It seems the season triggered stronger symptoms (in patients) this year.”

DeBrosse says he is seeing about 25 new allergy sufferers per week this season and expects to be busy through October.

“As a lifelong resident of Dayton, it affects me every year and you don’t have a choice,” said Frankie Brown, president of Mayor Taylor Cycling Club of Dayton. “It really affects you as a cycler because you’re using your respiratory system so much.”

Brown said allergies don’t usually irritate her until August, but her symptoms started earlier this year.

3,000 grains per cubic meter

According to the AAFA, an average pollen score runs at about 300 grains per cubic meter in the air. Dayton has frequently surpassed that threshold on a daily basis starting in mid-April, said Brian Huxtable, specialist at the Dayton-based Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, which includes Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Preble counties.

Spring rains can increase pollen amounts, and RAPCA officials expect counts to increase when temperatures rise. Tree, grass and weed pollen — which are predominant in southwest Ohio — are easily carried by the wind.

RAPCA tests for pollen five days a week. The peak level for tree pollen this year measured about 3,000 earlier this spring and was more than 1,500 six times between March 15 and April 1. The peak level in 2012 was 2,200.

“Most days in the spring time, it tends to be high,” Huxtable said. “Tree pollen season starts in March and into early June; levels spike midway through and then taper off.”

High pollen levels not only affect people’s health, but impacts their pocketbooks with increasingly costly allergy medicines.

Kyle Savoie, who works for Savoie Lawn and Landscape in Kettering, said pollen irritates his respiratory system enough that he buys over-the-counter allergy medicine to relieve his symptoms.

“I typically use Claritin or Zyrtec and the prices go up every year,” Savoie said. “It’s just another expense I don’t need.”

Allergy drugs can get expensive

Approximately 21 million units of Claritin and 14 million units of Zyrtec were sold in 2012, according to Hamacher Resource Group. The price of over-the-counter Claritin averages around $23.99 for a package of 30 tablets at local pharmacies.

DeBrosse said he’s seeing more patients use prescription allergy drugs this season, versus over-the-counter medicines.

“Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra haven’t been enough for this year,” he said. “Patients come back, and the over-the-counter drugs haven’t been working. Nasal sprays – Nasonex and Flonase, for example – might be more effective. And for some patients, the best treatment has been allergy shots, which treat the body to stop reacting to pollen.”

Merck — a global company that manufactures several name-brand allergy drugs — saw an increase in sales for Nasonex, with 2013 first-quarter revenue of $385 million, up slightly from 2012.

“The cost of nose sprays has definitely increased,” DeBrosse said. “Patients have been sharing with me that the cost has gone up significantly. There are a few generic-brand nose sprays available, but name-brand prices have increased.”

DeBrosse said patients’ coverage for generic nose sprays varies. Not all insurance covers even generic sprays, let alone name-brand prescription drugs.

“Some patients will pay a co-payment of $5, or they can pay up to $120 for these sprays,” DeBrosse said.

He warned that the drugs can have side effects, and alternative options can combat the effects of allergies.

“The most common side effect for the nasal spray would be nose bleeds, and there is some concern that long term there is a low risk that people could develop cataracts and glaucoma,” he said.

There are fewer board-certified allergists in Dayton compared to Cincinnati and Columbus, but Huxtable recommends allergy sufferers consult an allergist if symptoms arise. Allergies can lead to chronic illnesses such as asthma.

“Sufferers might try to avoid situations where their allergies might flare up,” Huxtable said. “Close the doors, turn on the air conditioning, don’t cut the grass.”

Allergy sufferers are hit hardest with tree pollen in April and May, grass pollen throughout the summer, and ragweed in August, but some residents cannot avoid exposure to the allergy-inducing spores.

Savoie Lawn and Landscape is getting seven-to-12 calls per week, and takes more calls during allergy season than it did during the fall season. Savoie said this season has had more of a severe impact than past allergy seasons.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” he said.

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