Oaks, in this case a red oak, are a major factor in pollen counts at this time of year. (Delaware State News/K.I. White)
DOVER — Achoo!
Grab the tissue after the latest sneeze and blow your nose. As always this time in May, the pollen count is up right now. This spring doesn’t appear to be any worse than usual, said the DNREC staffer who measures the state’s count three days a week. Rising heat, dry conditions with some wind mixed in will draw more pollen into the air, guaranteed. The rain may slow it, but can’t stop completely the process of plants in the reproduction cycle.
Michael McDowell, a laboratory technician with DNREC’s Air Quality Management Section, uses a microscope to gather state pollen counts. (Submitted photo/Chuck Sarnoski)[/caption] “If any allergens are going to affect anyone, this is the time,” said Michael McDowell, a laboratory technician with the state’s Air Quality Management Section of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “People who are most affected may want to stay inside or have access to a location with filtered air depending on their sensitivity (to the conditions).” Arriving from Oklahoma less than a year ago, Dr. Paul Pulchny thought he had moved away from conditions fostering allergies, but “it’s just as windy and flat here as it was in Oklahoma. “The pollen travels fast here and in a wide scope.” Plus, the doctor at Bayhealth Family Medicine of Harrington said Delawareans also must deal with the fall harvest season, considered the second worst time of the year for unseen floating allergens. “Oklahoma has agriculture, too, but I notice it more here in Delaware,” Dr. Pulchny said. In Oklahoma, Dr. Pulchny could correlate rising office visits with upped pollen counts and weather conditions. For most, maladies can be managed with over-the-counter nasal steroids and/or antihistamines, or “just toughed out,” Dr. Pulchny said.
Dr. Paul Pulchny
By the time patients arrive at his office, however, Dr. Pulchny said a shot or oral dose of steroids may be needed to calm inflammation. Pre-treatment may ease the suffering, he said. “If you know allergies bother you and mostly know what time they will flare up, intra-nasal steroids and non-drowsy antihistamines can help out (beforehand),” Dr. Pulchny said. Some patients believe they’ve developed a sinus infection and need antibiotics, but that takes seven to 10 days to develop, along with other symptoms, Dr. Pulchny said. Allergies can emerge within two to three days, accompanied by chronic cough or sneezing, itchy and reddened eyes, nasal drip and congestion drainage difficulties. Other folks, the doctor said, have just moved to the area and don’t realize the allergens that come with living in Delaware. Three days a week
Three days a week just south of New Castle, DNREC’s Mr. McDowell tracks the level of microscopic, dustlike particles that are the male reproductive cells for flowering in the air. It takes him about an hour to measure how much pollen exists, measuring a sample collection that’s stained on a slide to be viewed by a microscope. Pollen is collected in 12-hour increments from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. by a Burkard spore trap that creeps along at two millimeters per hour while a motor drawing in air is running. Mr. McDowell has measured counts for two decades or so, and can tell pine pollen for its Mickey Mouse hatlike shape, grass particles with their sphere and one pore, and many others based on their surface and a variety of unique characteristics.
Every year during allergy season (March 1 to Oct. 15) the Air Quality Management Section collects and reports pollen and mold counts three days a week, according to information on DNREC’s website. The report includes a color-coded rating chart that shows the level of hay fever and asthma symptoms that may be related to pollen exposures.
HOW IT'S DONE
The mold and pollen sample collector is located on the roof of the Air and Waste Management Division’s offices at Grantham Lane, just south of New Castle. Samples are collected on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Then, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, AQM laboratory technician Michael McDowell climbs to the roof, collects the sample, takes it back to the AQM lab and determines the count by looking through a microscope. Once the count is completed, he posts the information in two places:
• The DNREC Air and Waste Management Division’s Pollen Count web page at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/dwhs/services/ Pages/PollenCount.aspx, and
• The National Allergy Bureau’s web page. Both Mike McDowell and the AQM lab are certified by the National Allergy Bureau to count for pollen and mold spores and that count is the only posting on the national web page for Delaware.[/caption] There may someday be the technology to monitor counts through automation, but Mr. McDowell calls the current process a manual one. “There has been interest in automating this process,” he said. “It is very tedious and I can see where it would be beneficial if it’s accurate.” Beginning in latter part of April, requests arrived from the public and media regarding the state of pollen that affects thousands in the First State with symptoms of allergies, hay fever and asthma. He’s not able to pull an exact number off the top of his head, but Mr. McDowell said he’s been measuring pollen for something like 20 years; the state began monitoring it in the 1980s due to a flood of requests from those afflicted with conditions exacerbated by unseen, airborne particles. Pollen falls in three categories, Mr. McDowell said — trees, grasses, and weeds. There’s little grass pollen right now, while weeds are showing up in the counts. Oak tree pollen is prevalent at the moment, while the time for maple effects largely has passed. There’s also touches of mulberry, pine, sweet gum, ash and birch in the air, Mr. McDowell said. Their residue is often evident with the greenish-yellow dust on dark-colored cars and windshields. The Delaware pollen-gathering site is one of 78 in the United States and three in Canada reporting results to the National Allergy Bureau that also tracks mold spore levels. The Allergy Bureau is a section of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s Aeroallergen Network that is a “professional medical specialty organization that represents allergists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals and others with a special interest in treating and researching diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis/eczema and anaphylaxis,” according to its website.