How high is the pollen count in the region this week? So high and so persistent that a New York Times News Service reporter wrote "that high temperatures and sudden bloom have turned what some call the Bible Belt into the Pollen Belt." That description might fall into the category of excessive literary license, but there's no denying that the combination of mild winter and the early onset of warm, even hot, weather have generated plant growth, high levels of pollen and extreme misery for those with allergies.
Numbers tell the tale. In the last week, about 4,500 high-temperature records have been broken -- in many cases, shattered -- around the nation, according to the National Weather Service. High pollen counts go hand-in-hand with warm late winter and spring temperatures. It's not surprising, then, that that the count reached nearly 3,500 grains of pollen per cubic meter of air in Chattanooga this week. That's not a record here, but it still can cause problems.
Any number over 120 is above average. Chattanooga actually has fared relatively well during the current pollen siege. Atlanta, which has registered a count well above 9,000, and Nashville, with a reported 11,000 earlier this week, have fared far worse. It's all relative, says Paul Barys, chief meteorologist at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga. "Any pollen count above 1,000 means lots of misery." How true.
Pharmacists in the area report a run on over-the-counter allergy medications. Physicians -- especially family practitioners, internists and allergists -- say their offices are full of patients with itchy eyes, runny noses, coughs and sore throats. In most cases, seasonal allergies are not especially dangerous, though severe cases can prompt breathing difficulties that can led to hospitalization and, rarely, to death. Medication and other treatments can ease but not eliminate the worst effects of allergies.
The real cure is time. Pollen season and the allergies it triggers will pass as spring advances. Until it does, the multitudes directly affected by allergies have little choice other than to cope with the irritating by-product of spring's beauty.