Grass allergy

Water droplets shine in the morning sun as they cling to blades of grass in Mankato. Steady rains are good for growth, but growth isn't so great for allergy sufferers. Grass and tree allergies are common in late spring, when pollen from the plants is released into the air. Photo by Pat Christman

MANKATO — The greening of trees and lawns signals not just summer, but also the latest allergy season.

So far the season has been marked by steady rains — good for greening, not so much for allergy sufferers.

Dr. Richard Crockett, Mayo Clinic Health System allergist, said there are allergens to go with each season of the year. Now just happens to be the prime time for grass and tree allergies.

“To me there’s always some wave of patients who are miserable,” he said. “If you’re allergic to trees and grasses, this is a bad time for you.”

People don’t die from itchy eyes and stuffy noses, but it sure puts a damper on any springtime fun.

Wayne Rom of Mankato said he stays indoors when he can during the spring and fall to keep his allergy symptoms — watery eyes and sneezing — at bay. Trees, grasses and anything else that blooms and releases pollen are his agitators.

“You can’t get away from it, but I try to limit it as far as I can,” he said.

Windy days like Wednesday are particularly bothersome to Rom and others worried about inhaling tiny unseen pollen particles.

Crockett said these unseen particles are the culprit of so many issues, not the big cottonwood fluff balls that many allergy sufferers direct their ire toward.

“(Cottonwood fluff) looks like it should make you itchy,” he said. “It is fluffy after all, but it’s stuff you don’t see that’s the problem.”

The most common local culprits for allergens are oak, mulberry and walnut, according to allergy tracking website Mankato’s allergy rating for pollen has been labeled medium-high for much of May by the site, indicating above average allergy risks.

Over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays are one solution to reduce inflammation in the nose, Crockett said.

The word “steroid” scares some off from trying the sprays, but they work well and offer little risk of addiction to users when used once per day, he said.

“They hear the word steroid and it has negative connotations, but the dose is so low that long term side effects are rare.”

Asthma sufferers have fewer over-the-counter options to get them through the worst stretches of allergy season. They require visits to the doctor, the most serious of which include emergency department visits tracked by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Asthma emergency department visits spike in May for ages zero to 64, before coming back down in mid-June or July — the most doctor’s visits occur in the fall.

If your allergies are that severe, staying indoors and shutting your windows doesn’t seem like such a drastic option. Rom said he shutters his home during the six weeks or so his allergies flare up in the spring and fall.

As an allergy sufferer himself, Crockett said it's tough to recommend staying inside when it's so nice out. The medications, he said, generally do enough to make what should be an enjoyable time of year bearable.

Rom said he uses eye drops to ward off some of his allergy symptoms, but otherwise sees this time of year as an inconvenience to wait out until the worst stretch ends.

“It’s a big nuisance, but it’s something you tolerate,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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