Long winter makes seasonal allergies even worse this year

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- It has been such a long winter that the warm weather is jolting, and its onrushing nature over the last few days has many complaining of seasonal allergies.

To find out just how bad it is, ABC7 Eyewitness News climbed up to the roof of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park with Dr. Joseph Leija, one of Chicago's best known allergists, to check out what his slides say about our seasonal allergies.

And make no mistake: they're bad this year.

"Grasses have been very late (this year)," Dr. Leija observed. "Usually grass for the past month will be heavy but now it has not been out there because it has been very cold."

Examining the pollen that comes to rest on the glass slides inside his rooftop spectrometer, the doctor said Chicago has a spring-loaded allergy season upon us.

The higher levels of pollen will last for three or four weeks altogether for the trees, he said.

"And then comes the grass totals and then comes the weeds, and the ragweed is the last one in August and September," he explained.

So you're not alone if you feel especially lousy right now.

"(Symptoms become a problem) only when you have five or six spells of sneezing and the eyes get inflamed, watery, itchy eyes, and ears itch. That can indicate mucus dripping to the back of the throat which leads to a choking sensation," Leija said.

Asthma attacks are also on the rise.

Leija said the best strategy for combating allergies is to close your bedroom windows and crank up the air conditioning.

At Gottlieb, pollen less than 15 parts per million (ppm) is normal, up to 50 ppm is elevated, and over that is when we start to feel it. Right now, pollen levels are around 500 ppm.

The other key to getting through spring, Leija said, is to take over-the-counter medication proactively and preventatively.

"We have much better medication, as well as immunotherapy if we need, which works much better for the patient, and in the future, so people should not be afraid of using over-the-counter drugs on a regular basis," he said.

Patients should also check with their doctor about their symptoms.

And remember: you are probably not alone in how you feel.
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