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Pollen forecast: heavy

OK, ye pollen weary people. Want the good news or the bad news?

The good news: The worst yellow pollen season in more than a decade will end soon.

The bad news: That probably won't happen for a few more weeks, barring some cooperative weather.

Worse news: There's likely to be an onslaught of new pollen - this time of the grass variety - in mid-May if dry, unseasonably warm conditions persist. That means more sneezing, more watery eyes and, yes, more dirty cars. Only this time, the tint will be white instead of yellow.

Final analysis: Pollen, in one form or another, is likely to be a big annoyance into the summer.

OK, maybe there is no good news.

Despite a very brief respite from the allergy-inducing conditions thanks to storms late last week, the pollen count in the Upstate is the highest it's been since 1998.

And one expert says we might be a long way from being finished if the weather doesn't cooperate.

"It's going to be ugly," said Dr. Neil Kao, an allergist at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, looking ahead to the grass pollen season. "You're going to have Spring, Part II."

Yellow menace

The culprits behind this season's near-record pollen count are a wet winter and then a burst of warm and dry weather that's been more akin to summer than spring. That caused lots of plants and flowers to bloom together, rather than spread over the normal period of several weeks.

Throw in some wind to spread the pollen everywhere and the invasion of the yellow menace is on.

The conditions make it seem as if plants and flowers are producing more pollen than normal.

"It's not that you have more, you just notice it more," said Paul Thompson, a horticulture agent with the Clemson Extension Service.

On cars. On the ground. In your throat. Everywhere, it seems.

"Once the pollen has been shed, it doesn't continue to flower," Thompson said.

The random thunderstorm will clear out the pollen temporarily, but real relief doesn't happen without a significant period of rain. And that's not in the forecast for the time being, meteorologists say.

The National Weather Service doesn't expect any significant rain for the York County area for at least the next week. But above-average temperatures in the upper-70s will stick around.

The Climate Prediction Center predicted above-average temperatures for all of April, and "it sure looks like that's working out," said Larry Gabric, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Greer.

It's too early to know the long-term precipitation picture, but early models show normal to below-normal conditions for the area for the time being, Gabric said.

If that holds true, expect the Pollen Wars to continue.

In a normal year, Thompson said, we'd get a break between the yellow pollen produced by oaks, pines and other plants and the grass pollen that typically comes later in the summer.

"But I don't know what this weather might do," he said.

Kao, the Greenville allergist, expects any break to be minimal.

"The warm temperature weather we have means the grass pollen season moves forward (and starts sooner)," he said. "It can be just as annoying."

Seeking relief

So far, the pollen misery has sent a surge of patients to local allergy clinics.

"This has definitely been a rough spring here," said Dr. Roopen Patel, an allergist at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center in Rock Hill. "Everyone's been really miserable this year."

Spring is always a busy time for an allergy doctor, but this year has been especially active. Patel has seen a mix of new patients with allergies for the first time and established patients who previously could control symptoms with over-the-counter medication.

"This year," he said, "nothing's controlling their symptoms."

Rock Hill's Mechelle Carter, 39, a patient at Patel's clinic, stopped by Friday to get an allergy shot. She's allergic to tree pollen and grass pollen, among others. She hopes to get relief by July.

"This has been the worst," she said. "Sometimes I feel like I'm tasting it."

To keep from exacerbating symptoms, Patel tells his patients to take a common sense approach: If you're inside or in your car, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioning. If you're outside for a long time, take a shower before bed so you're not breathing in the pollen on your body all night.

But even those steps won't completely solve the problem -- which could make for a rough few months for many.

"The number one rule in allergies is to try to avoid what you're allergic to," Patel said. "It's almost impossible to avoid pollen."

Pollen tips

To help prevent pollen from making you miserable, doctors have this advice for those prone to allergies:

When driving, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioning. The same goes for when you're at home.

If you're outside for an extended period, take a shower before going to bed. Otherwise, the pollen in your hair and on your body will transfer to your pillow and bed and you'll breathe it in while you sleep.

If possible, avoid spending time outside before noon. The pollen count is generally highest in the morning. Conditions tend to be best after 5 p.m.

Take allergy medicines as directed.