By Johnny Jackson
Randy Sears and his 2-year-old son, Lincoln, were eyeing Ford Mustangs as Sears' wife took a less sporty minivan out for a test drive.
The family from Jackson braved the haze of tree pollen which has been coating the Legacy Ford and Hyundai of McDonough car lot all week.
Metro Atlanta's pollen count reached a near-record 5,733 on Wednesday, according to officials with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, which takes a daily measure of pollen particles in the air, per cubic meter.
"This is definitely one of the highest pollen counts we've had in a number of years," said Dr. Howard Silk, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic in Fayetteville.
The pollen, while a nuisance to motorists, does not harm cars, according to Legacy Ford and Hyundai Car Salesman Mark Harper.
"We rinse them off periodically," Harper said.
He said this is one of the busier times of the year for car sales, due in part to the use of cars as high school graduation gifts and partly due to the excitement of the approaching summer driving season. Buyers are more hesitant, though, to go out and shop for cars on days when pollen counts are high, he added.
Harper and others who spend time outdoors are expected to find some relief today, as the National Weather Service has forecast showers and thunderstorms throughout the region.
The showers will help rinse pollen out of the atmosphere, but that wash job will be short-lived for allergy sufferers, said Dr. Rayasam Prasad, an allergist with Allergy and Asthma Specialists, P.C., in Stockbridge.
"Rain clears the pollen out of the atmosphere," Prasad said. "But the relief we can get from rain is fairly brief. The pollen grains on the ground will absorb the moisture and eventually explode [releasing finer pollen particles into the air]."
Prasad added that while larger-grain tree pollen, like that from pine trees, may be washed from surfaces temporarily by the rain, smaller particles from other tree varieties may play havoc on those with allergies, even after the rains.
"However, each person's sensitivities are different," he said.
Allergists see an increased flow of patients who have allergic reactions to tree pollen including headaches, skin rashes, eye irritation, and inflammation of the chest and sinuses, said Prasad. He said some might even find they have similar allergies, or an oral allergy syndrome, with fruits grown from certain trees.
The tree pollen, the major culprit behind allergies in March and April, will subside as the spring progresses, he continued. Still, allergy sufferers can expect a second wave of allergies by May and June, when grass pollen will be the predominate allergen.
"The tree pollen will gradually diminish as we get into May, but a lot of people are even more allergic to grass," said Silk. "I think the reason we have so much of a problem now is that we had such a cold winter, and the pollen has come a couple of weeks later. Plants are all pollinating, all at the same time."
Silk advises area residents to decrease their chances of allergic reactions to spring and summer pollens by reducing their exposure.
"Taking a shower to wash the pollen off is a good idea, and keeping all the windows closed," Silk said. "In the car, keep the recycling button on in the car air conditioning. If you have allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines can be helpful. But if residents take other medications or have high blood pressure, they should consult with their physicians."