The Midwest's high tree pollen count is primarily birch and oak, bad news for carrot, celery and almond lovers. "It's healthy if certain foods make your mouth water but it is unhealthy if foods make your nose run or your gums and throat itch," says Joseph Leija, MD, allergist who performs the Gottlieb Allergy Count, the official allergy count for the Midwest. "The spring allergy count in the Midwest is high in birch and oak, which usually triggers reactions to carrots, celery, almonds, apples, peaches and pears in those with sensitive systems."
More than 45 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, primarily occurring in spring and fall, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
"Those with grass allergies should avoid melon, tomatoes and oranges," Leija warns. "And ragweed allergies are also linked to allergies to bananas, cantaloupe, cucumber, zucchini and chamomile tea."
While many people experience minor reactions to certain foods that are basically harmless, others have extreme reactions. "Difficulty breathing and itchy rashes are signs to go to a board-certified allergist or, in extreme cases, straight to the emergency room," says Leija, who has been performing the Gottlieb Allergy Count for more than two decades.
Dr. Leija, who normally conducts the Gottlieb Allergy Count from March to October, began the count later than usual this year due to Chicago's longer winter. "The trees have been slow to bloom this year due to the inconsistent warm and cold temperatures," he says. "The recent rains coupled with the sun has caused a huge growth spurt in the trees, which means post nasal drip, congestion and headaches in sufferers."
An octogenarian, Dr. Leija rises before dawn to collect specimens from his pollen-catching-machine atop a building on the Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus to deliver the count to the public by 7 a.m.
"You cannot control the weather but you can control your environment," he says. "Take your allergy medication and see your allergist before you experience health problems."
Dr. Leija also advises:
· Wash your hair before sleep to remove trapped pollens.
· Rinse your nostrils lightly with saline solution daily to remove irritants.
· Keep windows closed to protect inside air from contaminants.
· Run the air conditioner and air purifier to remove pollutants.
· Leave outdoor-exposed gear such as shoes and backpacks on the porch steps to preserve interior air.
· Cover mouth with a handkerchief or mask when doing spring yard cleanups including raking, edging and mowing.
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