So, after all those rainy weekends, you figured the sunshine and breezes last weekend were just what the doctor ordered, right?
Wrong--if you are among the army of allergy sufferers, the wheezing wounded who every spring must do battle against trillions of invisible pollen grains.
Thanks to the rapidly rising temperature and the spring breezes, the pollen count shot up to 85 yesterday, following readings of only 20 to 50 last week, according to Dr. John Zucker, the Maryland allergist who counts pollen for local broadcasters by collecting the tiny grains on a microscope slide on the fourth floor rooftop of his office in Temple Hills.
"We peaked a little early this year," Zucker said.
"It's been cold and rainy and it got very warm, very quickly. The trees sensed it was time to pollinate."
A beautiful day like yesterday, when temperatures soared to 81 and the spring breeze picked up to more than 20 miles per hour, is also a day when pollen counts run wild.
A pollen count up to 15 usually means roughly one-quarter of allergy sufferers start to feel uncomfortable; a reading of up to 30 will affect about half that population, and anything approaching yesterday's 85 makes almost all sufferers suffer.
Oaks and elms are the main culprits, spewing forth microscopic yellow-green pollen grains that tend to settle to earth during rainy Aprils. But in dry, warm weather, especially when it's breezy, the grains float around and end up in your nose and throat, making many of us miserable.
Among the roughly 20 percent of the population who suffer some form of allergy, the spring tree pollen is just the first onslaught of several months of red, watery eyes; runny, congested noses; maddeningly itchy throats.
In a few more weeks, grass pollen will be rampant, and, after a mid-summer breather, the ragweed season will be upon us in August.
Washington has the dubious distinction of being a hot spot for allergy sufferers--with wet winters, humid summers and a large and varied tree population combining to bring a fairly constant irritation to the suffering masses who battle back valiantly, but often futilely, with over-the-counter remedies.
Basically, the best thing to do to remedy pollen allergies is just stay inside, said Zucker. Close the windows, switch on the air-conditioner, and fantasize about moving to Phoenix, perhaps.
If you must go out, you can try antihistamines and decongestants, or, failing that, buy yourself a disposable surgeon's mask--and be prepared for people to look at you funny. As a last resort, you can consult an allergist, as many have in the past week.
"We've had more calls from people suffering" in the last week, said Dr. Stanley Wolf, who runs the Allergy Center in Silver Spring. "Oak trees pollinate with income tax" and give people trouble starting in mid-April, he said. But an 85 pollen count is unusually high for this early in the year, he said.