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Count in Atlanta area nears record high

LAWRENCEVILLE - It's everywhere - on cars, buildings, roadways, even pets. Pollen has made it to Gwinnett and experts say it's some of the worst they've seen.

The pollen count reported Thursday made history for the spore floating dust, topping off at a count of 5,937 for Atlanta and the surrounding areas. It was the second time in the city's history the count was that high, experts said.

Marie McFalls, Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic's abstract lab director, said an April 12, 1999, count of 6,013 was the highest ever recorded. That was nearly 50 times the number considered extremely high.

McFalls said the most common type of pollen polluting the air is from oaks, hardwoods and pines.

The allergy-causing dust cannot be seen by the human eye, McFalls said, and the particles are small, making it easy to get into the nose and airway.

"Pine pollen is basically just a nuisance. It's what we see covering our cars," McFalls said. "The nose can trap the pine before it moves to the airways because of its large size. It's the oaks that give us the sneezing and runny eyes."

Having practiced in Lawrenceville for nearly 23 years at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, Dr. John Zora said this year's pollen is the worst he has seen. While treating patients at the clinic's Gwinnett location on Riverside Drive, Zora said he has treated numerous patients with heightened allergic reactions this year.

"It has been a tough year so far," Zora said. "Twenty percent of people in the city are suffering from allergies to the pollen. We're seeing people who never had problems with allergies before and people who have increased problems."

Zora suggests those with severe allergic reactions to the pollen stay indoors and stay medicated with antihistamines.

"I'm not suggesting everyone in Atlanta stay inside during pollen season, just the ones with severe allergies," Zora said.

Norcross resident Margie Palmer has kept bees for 48 years and said, although she does not eat the honey herself, many locals swear by the sticky stuff as an allergy remedy.

"A chiropractor once told me a tablespoon of locally grown honey is as good as an allergy shot," Palmer said.

Zora said anyone having reactions to the pollen such as increased asthmatic problems, sneezing, running eyes and coughing should keep their car and house windows closed and stay away from the yellow dust as much as possible.

With outdoor activities such as mowing the grass, Zora suggests holding off with the chore or recruiting someone else to do the job.

"When you cut the grass it increases ten-fold your normal reaction to the pollen," Zora said. "If you really have to be the one to do it, wear a mask."

Zora said there is often no easy solution to reducing allergic reactions when the pollen counts soar like they have.

"If you had one of those NASA astronaut suits that would be the best, or if you lived in a bubble," Zora joked. "But we can't do that."

A Norcross meter reader said she luckily does not suffer from allergies, but has noticed the increased amounts of pollen this year.

"I am swimming. It comes down and sounds and feels like rain. I go through bushes and get it all over me," said Cheryl Inglima. "I don't have allergies, but I have to shower before bed."

JJE Contractors employee Lennin Trijo-Romero said his allergies are in full swing.

"My eyes water; it's in my throat, I cough. I take Claritin," Trijo-Romero said in Spanish.

Zora and McFalls said what Gwinnett residents have seen over the past few weeks is just a taste of what they predict is to follow.

"I believe January was one of the mildest ones we've had," Zora reasons for the early onset of the pollen. "We're truly in a new territory."

Beginning in March, trees pollinate typically for a week to 10 days, McFalls said, but the next dusting will come from grass and should be expected to pollinate in mid-April and into May.

McFalls said spring has arrived early this year, therefore bringing with it a dusting of yellow. McFalls agrees with Zora that the area's mild winter months are somewhat to blame.

"We had a couple of really warm days this winter and the trees started to pollinate earlier," McFalls said. "Any time you have cold then a week of warm it's going to bring out the cedars. And this year we've seen the pollen sooner because spring has come earlier this year."

McFalls said she and her colleagues will continue to measure the yellow stuff each day at a counting station in Atlanta, measuring the amount of pollen particles within a cubic meter of air.

"At 5 a.m., Monday through Friday we count and identify pollen particles from the previous 24 hours," McFalls said.

Staff Writer Christy Smith contributed to this article.