The eyes and noses have it

Pollen coats Midlands

jholleman@thestate.comMarch 16, 2012 

  • Pollen positives The stuff that makes eyes water, noses run and cars filthy has its good side, too. 1. The most basic positive – plants: We wouldn’t have most trees and plants without it. The stuff you see on your cars is the male gametes, or sperm, that has to be carried (by wind or on animals) to the female stigma for the trees to reproduce. 2. Economic engine: Pollen drives business to car washes, allergists and pharmacies. 3. Pollen dating: This has nothing to do with the sex references in No. 1. Pollen particles are incredibly tough and can last for millions of years in sediments. Scientists can pull pollen particles from core samples to determine the age of a layer of sediment. 4. Bee pollen: Bees carry pollen back to their hives and pack it with nectar and enzymes. Humans harvest that gooey substance and incorporate it in nutritional supplements. It’s alleged to increase energy and stamina and aid digestion, among other claims.

That icky yellowish-green stuff on your cars, your outdoor furniture and, if you stand still long enough, you, is pine pollen.

Pine pollen is big and visible and comes out in clumps, seemingly all at once in South Carolina, but it isn’t the cause of most respiratory allergies. The pollen that causes most spring allergy problems is the smaller, hard-to-see particles from other trees.

Pollen.com says levels of juniper, birch and elm are particularly high this week. Weather.com says oak and cottonwood pollen levels are high. Thousands of noses say plenty species of pollen are bursting out all over, a little earlier than normal this warm March.

Allergists, respiratory specialists and car washes are especially busy during peak pollen periods. Ophthalmology offices also are brimming with people complaining of burning eyes, which often are aggravated by the large pine pollen particles.

The simplest prescription is to stay inside.

“But I hate to tell my patients that,” said Dr. Nicole Psaltis, an optometrist with University Specialty Clinics and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. “It’s so pretty outside. No one wants to stay inside.”

Instead, Psaltis recommends her patients stock up on preservative-free artificial tears, available at pharmacies without a prescription. For most people, a good eye-washing with those three or four times a day will sooth the problem.

Psaltis also suggests a good pair of sunglasses, which serve as a barrier for wind-blown particles.

If your well-watered eyes behind the sunglasses still are burning, you might have an allergy to a particular pollen. Over-the-counter eye drops with antihistamines to fight the allergy are the next line of defense.

If that doesn’t work, it’s time to visit an eye-care professional like Psaltis. Just be prepared for a crowded waiting room for the next few weeks.

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