Ireland health expert offers advice on ways to thrive in the Central Kentucky ‘asthma belt’

Tree allergy season is in full bloom at Fort Knox
Spring has sprung and with it, seasonal allergies. A Fort Knox allergy specialist says tree, grass and weed allergies are considered quite common with as many of 40% of the population suffering from mild to severe symptoms. Kentucky is considered one of the worst states in the United States for allergies. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. — Grab that box of tissues and get ready. Spring is coming in with a vengeance, and with it, allergies.

Central Kentucky, and all of Kentucky for that matter, is well known as a hotbed of sneezing, wheezing and coughing for those who suffer from nasty, albeit necessary, tree pollens.

A Healthline article says of the more than 50,000 tree species in the world, only about 100 acdtually produce pollens that cause allergies to flare up. However, peruse a list of the worst offenders in the United States and you quickly realize why Kentucky has it so bad; many bloom right here in Central Kentucky.

“Kentucky, Louisville specifically, is generally listed on the ‘worst cities to live in with allergies and asthma’ due to its geographic location, climate and high pollen count,” said Wayne Wolverton, doctor of osteopathic medicine in the Allergy/Immunology Clinic at Ireland Army Health Clinic. “The Ohio River Valley is one of only two asthma belts in the United States. We have high levels of all types of pollens.”

Louisville currently ranks 20 on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America list.

Spring just sprang a few weeks ago, but for many living in the area it already feels like 2021 has raised levels to a much higher level. Wolverton blames the weather.

“This year is likely going to be worse than previous allergy seasons in this area due to a mild, short winter, which is an ongoing trend nationally with gradually warmer temperatures and increasing CO2 levels,” said Wolverton. “This tends to promote longer growing seasons for pollen producing plants, leading to higher pollen counts.

“The area also has very good rainfall, which promotes plant growth.”

According to pollen.com, the top tree allergens for the area are coming from oak, maple, juniper, elm, birch and ash. However, more than one thing can cause allergies to ignite, which makes identifying the offenders much more difficult.

For instance, people’s sinuses can also act up from air pollution, pet dander, cockroach and mice feces, molds and dust mites to name a few. Wolverton said allergies are not to be confused with colds, flus and upper respiratory illness.

Tree allergy season is in full bloom at Fort Knox
Experts say the growing seasons have been getting longer over the past several decades, stretching the allergy seasons. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of RCC-ACIS.org) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Seasonal allergies are very common and occur in up to 40% of the population with varying severity of symptoms,” said Wolverton. “Allergies also trigger other related medical issues like asthma and eczema.”

He explained symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on how the body reacts, and include itching watery red eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, post nasal drip and coughing.

As people wrestle with the thought of suffering through the season, there are some tried and true methods that can help.

Wolverton said avoidance, if possible, is likely the best course of action.

“You can help mitigate exposure to pollens but you will likely never be able to avoid them completely, unless you live in a bubble,” said Wolverton. “Wearing masks, like an N95, and glasses or goggles can help when outdoors. I have some patients that wear goggles and masks when they are heavily exposed to pollens like when mowing the lawn or trimming weeds.”

When indoors, Wolverton recommends keeping windows and doors closed, and using air conditioning with a good filter to reduce the pollen count inside the home.

Probably the most common method for temporarily dealing with allergies is the use of over-the-counter medications. The three categories are antihistamines, nasal steroids and sinus rinses. Each has its pros and cons, and Wolverton said it’s important to know them before taking a medication.

For more long-term relief, sufferers can choose allergen immunotherapy in the form of shots and drops. But Wolverton recommends people first start with an allergy test.

“Allergy testing is available to identify your triggers in order to avoid exposure if possible,” said Wolverton. Once taken, the immunotherapy can then “lead to a decrease in sensitivity and a decrease in symptoms.”

For those who have allergy symptoms and would like to be tested and treated, Wolverton advises they first contact a local allergist. Even if they are unsure of which short-term method to use.

The one guarantee in all this is that the season will eventually end, said Wolverton. Soon, all the tree pollens will wash away with the rain and die out as spring yields to summer.

In time for the grass pollens.