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March 16, 2012

Pollen coats Midlands

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

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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