After sniffling through a bad spring where the pollen count hit 210 on its worst day, area allergy sufferers have received the final insult with this week's heat and humidity.
"I've had a lot of calls this week," says Dr. Robert Scanlon, an allergist also associated with the Georgetown University Hospital allergy clinic. "People's allergies have been aggravated this past week, and there have been increased symptoms for all ages."
So while the rest of Washington may not be looking forward to the end of spring, allergy sufferers can hardly wait for the end of June, when they'll finally get a breather.
Having survived the tree pollens of March through May and the grass pollens through the end of June, they'll have a blessed break -- until the killer August arrives with the dreaded ragweed that plagues this area until first frost.
This spring will not be fondly remembered by the many with trumpeting noses and itchy eyes because its rain and early heat produced a bumper crop of vegetation. Add to that the rain-hastened growth of mold, another major irritant, and you have the ingredients that made this spring a many-tissued thing.
Washington often has been called the sinus capital or allergy capital of the nation. Though most allergists dismiss these honors as too grand, they are also quick to mention the contributions of Rock Creek Park, a tree- and pollen-laden oasis that freely distributes its irritants the length of the city.
Combine that with "our lousy weather, and our geographical location over a swamp, and this is an ideal place for an allergist to practice," says Dr. Yuill Black, "but a lousy place for an allergic person to live."
An allergy is defined as a reaction to something that usually causes no difficulty for the average person, such as ragweed, grass pollen, tree pollen, mold, dog hairs, or even perfume. It can develop at any stage of life and only rarely can be cured totally. It's been estimated that 15 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from allergies.
If you're confused about whether you have an allergy or a cold, check your temperature. A fever usually indicated it is not an allergy, the experts say. Generally with an allergy people don't feel sick, just uncomfortable, according to Dr. Gloria Werth, associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine.
"If every year you have trouble at the same time, and if every spring or every August you have the same symptoms, you can be pretty sure you have an allergic condition," said Scanlon.
The best treatment for an allergy, obviously, is to avoid the source of the problem. Since that often isn't feasible, doctors suggest trying over-the-counter medications, which may help to relieve some allergy symtoms.
According to Black, there is no need to see an allergist unless your symptoms are severe enough to keep you from working.
Other suggestions by allergists to the suffering include:
Jog or play tennis in the late afternoon or evening. Pollen counts are highest between 6 a.m. and noon.
Spend as much time as possible indoors with air conditioning and keep windows closed. A fan is likely just to circulate the pollen.
Be careful in using over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines to treat allergy symptoms. Some may cause drowsiness that can interfere with working or driving a car.
Consider wearing a paper mask when cutting the grass.
Think about an electronic air filter for your house, if money is no object.
Choose the ocean over the mountains for your vacation. The sea breezes ten to blow pollen away.
Weigh the pros and cons of allergy shots. It often takes one or two shots a week (at about $10 a shot) for at least five or six years to build up sufficient immunity. Some patients swear by them. But you can't run to your allergist every spring and expect a few weeks of shots to cure your runny nose and red eyes.
Check the daily pollen count.
Black has prepared the count for the last 15 years as a public service for the D.C. Medical Association and the D.C. Lung Association.
Every day at 9 a.m., he puts a glass slide smeared with silicone jelly on the top of a building at 19th and K streets NW, retrieves it after several hours, colors it with a stain that turns the captured pollen grains bright pink and counts them individually over a specified section of the slide.
A low reading is under 10, medium from 40-80 and high is over 100. Black says the count helps doctors in diagnosing patients and helps patients to take such precautions as spending the day indoors on high-count days.