Spring brings a welcome break from the repeated blasts of cold and snow in western Kentucky, but those wintry conditions are expected to lead to an increase in allergies now that spring has arrived.
Sanaz Eftekhari, a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said the foundation expects an increase in allergens nationwide because of the heavy snowfall this winter and drenching rains in early spring.
All the precipitation, she said, "means there's an increased amount of mold and moisture and an increased amount of pollen."
The AAFA recently released its list of 2014 Spring Allergy Capitals - an annual list ranking the 100 most challenging metropolitan areas for allergy sufferers to live in the United States - and Eftekhari noted that Paducah is "smack dab in the middle" of four of the top 25. Louisville ranks first; Memphis, Tenn., is second; St. Louis ranks 20th and Nashville, Tenn., is 25th on the list.
Eftekhari said southern cities dominate the top 25 spots. The rankings are determined by three factors: a city's pollen score, the reliance of its residents on allergy medications and the number of allergy specialists available.
Dr. Bradley Rankin - a board certified allergist at Family Allergy & Asthma in Paducah - said it's hard to predict how the season will go, but the AAFA's expectation that this year will be a tough one is probably correct.
"With the winter like it's been, yeah, I think it's going to be a bad spring for people," Rankin said.
Rankin said spring allergy season has been a growing problem for the Paducah area over the past few years. The doctor said this year patients have been coming to him with problems related to spring allergies for the past three weeks, which he said is relatively early for the season to begin.
Rankin said he has seen more patients with spring allergy symptoms in recent years than he used to, and symptoms have increased in severity each year as well.
"It just seems each year gets worse," he said.
Rankin believes that climate change is partly to blame for worsening spring allergy seasons. He explained that an increase in carbon dioxide - a greenhouse gas - in the atmosphere is causing plants to start pollinating earlier, which results in longer allergy seasons. The allergist said plants are also producing more pollen, and the allergens in the pollen are stronger than they used to be.
Eftekhari said the foundation's goal in releasing the Spring Allergy Capitals list is to encourage people to be more proactive in treating their allergies. She said patients suffering allergy symptoms should visit doctors to be properly diagnosed. That way, patients can find out which specific allergens they're susceptible to and receive personalized treatment plans.
Rankin said after an allergy skin test and diagnosis, there are basically three ways patients' allergies are treated: avoidance, medicine and immunotherapy.
For those allergic to pollen, he said, avoidance measures can include keeping car windows closed, showering at the end of the day to avoid carrying pollen into bed and wearing a protective mask while doing yard work.
Numerous medications are available to prevent and treat spring allergy symptoms, They include antihistamines, many of which are available over the counter, and nasal steroid sprays, most of which are prescription only.
Rankin said allergy injections are the standard form of immunotherapy and make patients less sensitive to the allergens that affect them. He said allergy shots modify the disease process, decreasing the risk of developing asthma and decreasing the development of new allergens, especially in children.
The allergist said an immunotherapy tablet is now available for some allergy sufferers. He said the pill, which dissolves under the tongue, is only effective for grass allergies, but he expects others will be developed in the future.
"(We're) at the start of having new things for patients," Rankin said.
Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.