ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Ken Lewis mows the lawn in front of his home Tuesday afternoon in Paducah. Bermuda grass, usually found on golf courses, typically is the main cause of allergy symptoms in this area, but a local allergy specialist reported Johnsongrass beats out Bermuda nearly 10 to 1 on skin tests this year.
Spring might have missed its queue several weeks ago, but as persistent 70-degree weather finally takes hold, blossoming blooms leave hardly a dry eye in the crowd and allergy specialists say this might only be an intermission.
The annual yellow dusting of assorted pollen has coated nearly every nook and cranny it can creep into, leaving much of the state reporting moderate or high pollen counts and wrecking havoc on people’s allergies.
According to the 2013 Allergy Capitals report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Paducah once again sits in between the top allergy-ridden cities in the nation, as Louisville ranks fifth overall; Memphis, Tenn., ranks eighth overall; and St. Louis connects the final leg of the triangle at 31st overall.
“I don’t think (pollen counts) are going back down at all,” said Dr. Bradley Rankin, board certified allergist at Family Allergy & Asthma in Paducah. “We’re still going up.
“Once pollen goes down or starts heading down, the symptoms won’t necessarily improve for a while. There will be a lag.”
After several days of warm weather in late February, patients began trickling into Rankin’s office with typical allergy season symptoms, but bouts with snow and colder temperatures held the worst symptoms at bay until about three weeks ago.
While it’s difficult to compare allergy symptoms from year to year, a progressively warmer global climate has created weather patterns that tend to elevate pollen counts earlier and stronger than in previous years, Rankin said.
“This season is every bit as severe as last year and it could very well be a bit more,” he said.
The main culprits this year? Elevated pollen from oak, maple and cedar trees has lingered for several weeks, while grass pollen has hit earlier than usual. Rankin said allergy reaction tests have shown an increase in the number of people allergic to Johnsongrass, a type of grass originally introduced as forage but now regarded as a weed and not suitable for grazing.
Normally, Bermuda grass takes the cake for lead grass allergen.
“Johnsongrass has easily surpassed that by about 10 to 1 on the skin test,” Rankin said. “I haven’t seen it to this degree before.”
Worldwide, warmer temperatures have also led to an increase in carbon dioxide, which spurs plant growth and could be attributed to higher pollen counts, according to Dr. Warren Filley, chairman of the committee overseeing the National Allergy Bureau for the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.
“Plants do respond in certain ways,” Filley said. “When a plant is happy ... next year it will reward you with lots of pollen.”
Short of seeking medication to treat seasonal symptoms of allergic rhinitis, avoidance measures are the next best bet for staving off the worst symptoms of itchy eyes, dripping nose and sneezing.
Rankin suggested keeping car and house windows closed to prevent pollen from circulating inside; take a shower and wash your hands before going to bed to prevent inadvertently rubbing lingering pollen into a pillow or on your face; avoid much outdoor contact during peak allergy times (such as dry, windy days); and wear a face mask when cutting grass.
“Allergies can really have a significant effect on quality of life issues, and people don’t tend to realize it until it really hits you,” Rankin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.