By Lee Tolliver, The Virginian-Pilot – 4/16/2018

By Lee Tolliver, The Virginian-Pilot – 4/16/2018

The white car isn’t so white right now. Neither is the red or blue one.

In fact, just about everything these days has a powdery coating of yellow-green.

Must be spring.

Pollen counts were at their peak last week and they’ll stay that way for several more weeks, according to pollen.com – a website that issues localized warnings about the stuff that makes your eyes itch and your nose run.

“It’s actually been pollen season since late January and early February,” said Dr. Craig Koenig with Hampton Roads-based Allergy and Asthma Specialists. “The numbers started coming up back then.

“But this is when it’s worst.”

The pine pollen you see on cars, chairs and anything else outside isn’t what’s bothering you. What’s tickling your sinuses is actually the pollen from oak, maple, alder and elm trees. When they’re done giving you a headache, grass pollen will pick up the slack. Levels taper off for the summer, then ragweed cranks up in the fall.

“This is really a bad time of year because it’s finally getting warm and people want to go outside,” Koenig said. “But if it bothers you, staying inside is the best thing you can do.

“That’s like telling a starving person to eat a steak really slow.”

Pollen is the fine powder plants use to germinate when it is blown off the stamen of flowering plants and lands on the pistol. Pollen also is transferred by bees and other insects that feed off a flower’s nectar.

Real time pollen counts are performed by National Allergy Bureau certified counting stations, of which there are approximately 90 in the entire country, according to spokeswoman Megan Brown. There are no counting stations in Virginia and the closest to Hampton Roads is in Washington, D.C. North Carolina has stations in Asheville and Charlotte.

Becoming a certified counter is time consuming.

“We wish we had more counters,” Brown said. “Becoming certified is an extensive process.”

Pollen.com uses forecast models and issued reports based on a five-tier scale that ranges from 0 to 2.4 on the low end to 9.7 to 12 on the high end.

Norfolk’s forecast for Friday was 10.4, with forecasts of 10.5 for Saturday and 10.8 for Sunday. Rain forecast for Sunday night should have washed away quite a bit of pollen for a medium-high forecast of 8.6 today.

But don’t get used to dropping numbers.

“Rain washes it away for a day or two, but rain also is like fertilizer for the plants and really makes them pop,” Koenig said. “We’re hearing a lot from people who say they’ve never had allergy problems and now it’s bothering them.”

Koenig said several over-the-counter nasal steroids work well with pollen allergies, also known as hay fever. Four of them used to be prescription only, he said.

“And the FDA has just approved some newer, under-the-tongue therapies for people who don’t want to or don’t have the time to come in the office every week for allergy shots,” Koenig said. “People can take them home and use them as prescribed, and they seem to really work.”