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Don Paul: Warm winter brings on allergies, more mosquitoes and ticks

Many allergy sufferers already know we’re off to a tough pollen season for this early in spring. The warm winter has moved the blooming season ahead of schedule, and there has been plenty of precipitation to assist in developing full foliage.

At this time in April, the primary culprits in our region are pollen grains from maple, poplar and elm trees. While (to my knowledge) no pollen count is taken in Western New York, reliable estimates are made by a variety of online sites based on observed stage of blooming plants in our part of the country, as well as past historical estimates and measured counts.

A little later in the spring and early summer, other plants including trees, weeds and grasses will make their contribution of pollen, and other sufferers will feel allergy symptoms depending on which type of pollen triggers their reactions. The only way to determine precisely which type of pollen affects you is to be tested by an allergist. That step may be necessary when reactions are more severe. Some people suffer from annoying symptoms such as itchy eyes and sneezing, but others are affected by more serious ailments like difficulty breathing, headaches, sore throat, increased mucous production and asthmatic attacks.

Nature brings temporary relief with occasional rainy days. The rain does – as you might expect – wash much of the pollen out of the air, dropping the pollen count drastically for a short time. Prolonged wet periods, though, can cause mold and mildew to grow, raising sensitivity in other people – not necessarily the same people who are sneezing from pollen. As for treating the symptoms, doctors and pharmacists are the best resources. They know which antihistamines and decongestants have been proven to work the best. I’ve yet to meet a pharmacist who isn’t happy to help me out with OTC product choices, when my symptoms kick in later in the spring.

Warm winters with abundant precipitation also lend themselves to burgeoning mosquito populations. This past winter was exceptionally mild in February, when our temperature ran 8 degrees above average. Our coldest period during a stretch in December was not cold enough to reduce overwintering insects and their eggs. With rainfall running high this spring, we can be assured of high mosquito populations. Remember, standing water provides a perfect environment for mosquito larvae.

Warm winters with abundant precipitation also lend themselves to burgeoning mosquito populations. (Getty Images)

Author Vera Lawlor has studied Cornell University research on ticks and found “every season is tick season in New York State.” With high deer populations in Western New York, this means people and their pets are all at higher risk for tick-borne disease, particularly Lyme disease. It’s very important we all check ourselves and our pets for ticks more often. The Companion Animal Parasite Council advises pet owners to apply flea and tick preventative year-round. Ticks can transmit serious bacterial diseases to animals and humans. Undetected and untreated Lyme disease sometimes can lead to major complications.

Cornell has some valuable tips on how humans can minimize exposure. It’s not always easy, but efforts should be made to keep pets from tick-infested areas, and to check them before they come in (my wife found a tick on one of our dogs a few days ago). Pet owners should contact their vets for recommendations on the best flea and tick preventative products, and how to apply them. Lawns should not be allowed to grow overly long grass and weeds. Leaf litter, even though we think of it as a helpful mulch, also is a nesting place for ticks.

Cornell (the center for agricultural and veterinary research in New York) also recommends people take protective steps that sound burdensome for hot days and muggy evenings ahead. Light-colored clothing is advised, with long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks, as well as shirts tucked into pants. The Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine also advises to use repellent sprays as directed. When jogging or walking, stick to the center of trails and avoid moving into overgrown areas. Lawn furniture also should be located away from the edges of taller growth.

If all this seems like a whole lot of “fussing,” it’s important to know Lyme disease can become quite serious if untreated. It is on the rise across much of the country, including Western New York and the Northeast.

Checking for ticks should become a part of our routine. Here are 2 useful references on Lyme disease:


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