Weed Allergy Count At Two-Decade High, Creates ‘Pollen Vortex’

Chicago Sun-Times

Weed allergy counts hit a two-decade high Tuesday. | Getty Images | Caption: Chicago Sun-Times

Thursday, May 15, 2014 

Originally published: May 13, 2014 || By Monifa Thomas, Health Reporter, Chicago Sun-Times 

The highest weed count recorded in at least two decades resulted in the Chicago area getting a dangerous air quality alert on Tuesday.

“The weed count was over 1,000, and last year at this time the weed count was just 200,” said Dr. Joseph Leija, a retired allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park and still the only person authorized to perform the pollen count for the Midwest on behalf of the National Allergy Bureau.

Not only was Tuesday the highest count Leija said he’s seen in two decades, but it also came earlier than usual, he said.

Typical pollen seasons are trees from March to May, grass from May to June, weeds and ragweed from mid-August to October and mold all season long, depending on dampness.

But Leija said this year, the Chicago area is experiencing what he called a “pollen vortex.”

“The traditional seasons for the different allergens have clumped together, creating a solid front of problems for those with sensitive respiratory systems,” he said.

Leija said that is likely the result of the late spring we’ve had, coupled with humidity – after the melting snows of the polar vortex and plenty of rain.

“The amount of pollen in the air [has been increasing], and trees, grasses and weeds are all worse,” he said.

Weed was the only pollen source that got an alert Tuesday — meaning that those with allergies were advised to stay indoors. A weed alert is triggered by a pollen measurement of more than 500 grains per cubic meter.

But trees and mold — which also produce pollen and spores — also had highs on Tuesday. Grass pollen was at moderate levels.

To minimize allergy symptoms, Leija suggested closing windows in your home or your car if you need to go out, washing your hair before sleeping at night and rinsing nasal passages with saline solution. Allergy medication also can help. VFP

The Gottlieb Allergy Count is available on Twitter (@GottliebAllergy) or by calling 1-866-4-POLLEN (476-5536).

Email: mjthomas@suntimes.com || Twitter: @MonifaThomas1

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