Sneezing, sniffling and stuffy?

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2011 - 10:44 PM

It's the end of summer, and your nose knows: It's allergy season.

For many Minnesotans, this is the season known as "subber." And for some, it's as bad as it's ever been.

A wet, cool spring, followed by a hot midsummer and a dry August have combined to produce a heavy crop of stuffy noses, runny and itchy eyes, scratchy throats and sneezing.

"It's a significant allergy season," said Dr. Harold Kaiser, founder of Allergy and Asthma Specialists in Minneapolis. "It's been a good growth season. The farmers have liked it, the gardeners have liked it, but people with allergies don't like it so well."

Late winter and early spring dampness always ignites mold allergies, while budding trees and flowering grasses spread pollen into early summer, followed by the mid-August burst of ragweed pollen. But all seem to have been enhanced this year by changes in the weather that have been timed just right for big pollen production, added Dr. Malcolm Blumenthal, an immunologist and emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

One more thing.

"It's sure to be worse this fall," Blumenthal said.

Kate Roberts, 33, of New Hope, said she usually fights allergies in spring and late summer into fall. But this season it seems as if the pollen surges and her symptoms have simply overlapped.

"I've been battling them all summer," she said, adding that for the first time she can remember she's had to cut short some outdoor activities with her kids to deal with sneezing and burning eyes. "It's just been constant."

Joe Lee, 29, of Plymouth, said sneezing attacks have forced him to go idle several times a day at his job at a call center.

"It drives the people around me nuts, and it drives me nuts," he said. "This has been probably one of the worst years I can remember."

Martha Carpenter, 43, of Minneapolis, said it's been so bad this year that she's been enlisting her husband and friends to buy the decongestant Sudafed for her so she can get around limits set by the state to prevent its use in making illegal methamphetamine.

"I've had to double up on meds this year," she said.

The website predicts that the pollen count Thursday in the Twin Cities -- 11.5 grains per cubic meter of air -- will nearly match the season high recorded Aug. 24 by Clinical Research Institute, which is affiliated with Allergy and Asthma Specialists. Thursday's predicted high temperature is 95 degrees, with winds approaching 20 miles per hour through the day -- favorable for a high pollen count, since ragweed pollen is distributed on the wind.

While prolific, ragweed isn't regarded as a noxious weed under state law, so no one's trying to eradicate it. Some of it grows low enough to the ground that even mowing doesn't prevent it from producing pollen, said Hennepin County agricultural inspector Greg Senst.

Goldenrod is often seen as the villain behind summer allergies, but the golden-headed plant produces less pollen than ragweed, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Ragweed flowers are a boring green.

Allergy sufferers generally can deal with their conditions with medication until the first frost wipes out the ragweed. Meanwhile, they might also have to spend more time than they like indoors in air conditioning.

Does that make summer something to dread?

"No, I love Minnesota's seasons," Roberts said. "It's kind of a strain to deal with [allergies]. But at the same time, summer's awesome. Who are we kidding? It's been a stellar August."

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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