It's just after 5 a.m. and Marie McFalls can already count on another bad day. She's a technician at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, and she's counting the pollen particles in a cubic meter of air.
A count of 120 would be extremely high, but today she spots 5,768.
It's the fourth highest since records started being kept in Atlanta. Just the day before the count was the second highest.
As any allergy sufferer will tell you, that is something to sneeze at.
"Patients have been miserable," says Dr. David Tanner, also of the Atlanta clinic. "Their eyes have been watering, itching, they've been swollen, their nose has been running, sneezing."
But it's not just the Southeast. This spring, according to the Web site Pollen.com, high allergy levels stretch from Washington state to Washington, D.C.
And if you think it's just you with the congestion, the wheezing, the watery eyes, think again.
"It's just as bad for our dogs and cats, especially those with allergies, as it is for humans," says Patricia White of the Atlanta Veterinary and Skin Allergy Clinic.
Experts describe a kind of pollen perfect storm — a wet fall, milder winter, and a dry, suddenly hot spring triggering an explosion.
"Everything is blooming a little closer together," says horticulturist Amanda Campbell with the Atlanta Botanical Garden. "So there's all these blooms out, which is beautiful, but there's also a lot of pollen associated with the blooms."
Scientists say the problem is actually man-made.
"Carbon dioxide — burning fossil fuels — is stimulating plants to make more pollen," says Paul R. Epstein with the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard University. "And the weeds love this stuff."
What to do?
- Take medications 30 minutes before going outside;
- Use air conditioning on high pollen count days;
- Dry laundry indoors;
- Shower before bed;
- And wipe down pets that have been outdoors.
Climate change could also cause the misery to last year-round, which means Marie McFalls can count on a lot more days like these.