Tonawanda News

June 9, 2013

Buffalo is ranked No. 15 in allergies in the nation

By Lisa Khoury
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Buffalo No. 15 on its list of spring allergy capitals in a report released in April.

Dr. John Boulos, a Lockport allergist, said there are two main factors that contribute to Buffalo’s high ranking: its local plantation and experience of all four seasons.

“Misery season” starts in early April when many of Buffalo’s trees, like red cedar, hazelnut, elm, alder and aspen, start pollinating, which is when Boulos’ patients start to “flock” to his office, he said. In June and July, grass pollinates. When fall begins, Buffalo’s weeds, particularly ragweeds, pollinate. All strongly contribute to allergic reactions.

Boulos has been an allergist in areas in Western New York for 32 years. In recent years, he’s seen an increase in patients with allergy problems. Last year, Buffalo was No. 25 on AAFA’s list of spring allergy capitals, rising 10 spots since.

The AAFA bases its list on three factors: pollen, the number of medications people use, including prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs and the number of allergists in the area to make sure there’s enough qualitly healthcare, said AAFA spokesperson Angel Waldron.

Waldron said Buffalo rose to the No. 15 spot because of a higher-than-normal incidence of pollen. Tree pollen and the number of medications people use was more than the AAFA felt it should be.

“We know last year that the Northeast had a high incidence of mold due to extreme weather such as (Hurricane) Sandy and the climate change has been able to create warmer climates that enable trees to pollinate for much longer than they did before,” Waldron said. “So there’s a combination of things over the past year that are having people exposed to pollen for much longer than they used to.”

Boulos said the pollen counts this year have been “severely high.”

“So people who already have mild symptoms have worse symptoms, and so it’s a snow-balling effect,” he said.

There are other parts of the country where weather seasons are shorter and ragweeds don’t grow, which would make its residents less susceptible to allergies, Boulos said.

“If somebody lives in Buffalo and has a ragweed allergy, he goes to these areas and feels better during the time he has the problems in Buffalo and Western New York in general,” Boulos said.

In Buffalo’s “heavier” allergy seasons, Boulos said over-the-counter drugs like Claritin D, Allergra or Zyrtec and their generic forms, are sometimes not as helpful as they are in milder allergy seasons.

Over-the-counter drugs can be helpful in mild allergy seasons, but, come spring, patients may need to see a doctor for a prescription.

Statistically, about 70 to 80 percent of the population have allergies. However, Boulos said he only addresses the people who come into his office complaining about them, so it’s difficult to quantify how many people in Buffalo have allergies. He added there are people who have mild allergies that live and tolerate them as part of day-to-day life.

“Most people don’t even need to go to the doctor, they just go to the drug store ... or take advice from the local pharmacist as to what they can use,” Boulos said. “They only come and see the doctor after if these measures don’t work.”

Providence, RI, which is ranked at No, 16, one spot after Buffalo, has pollinating trees like red cedar, hazelnut, elm alder and aspen, stated on the spring allergy capitals website.

Jackson, MS is the No. 1 spot this year, “primarily due to very high pollen and a large reliance on allergy medications among allergy patients,” stated on the allergy capitals website.

Boulos said while this spring has caused severely high allergies, it remains to be seen whether that will continue during the grass pollen season in June and July and ragweed season in August and September.

Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes contributed to this story.