Countdown to end of pollen season is on

Dealing with pollen

The good news is the pollen that's irritating sinuses and eyes around South Carolina should be gone by the end of the month.

The bad news is there's still nearly four weeks left in April.

From the mountains to the coast, South Carolina has been suffering under a cloud of yellowish-green dust that hangs over highways, cakes on cars, pools in puddles and generally makes life miserable.

If you're suffering, you're not alone. Medical University of South Carolina allergist Sonia Bains said pollens from trees and grasses affect at least 20 percent of adults, with the percentages running even higher among children.

The worst case Bains has seen this season involved a woman with asthma who had to be hospitalized because her reaction was so negative.

The common pollen most widely seen comes from the male flowers of pine trees, which during the spring release their reproductive sperm cells en masse. Since insects and birds don't contribute to that pollination, Mother Nature relies on gusts of wind to spread the dust as far as possible. That's why the clouds are so thick.

Pine pollen also may not be the biggest culprit behind the worst allergic reactions. Forestry officials say pine granules are much larger than what's seen in other tree species known to annoy the eyes and nose and trigger allergic responses, such as oak.

Bains said that even as the season wanes, those suffering from tree allergies have a sensitivity that remains high. The result is that it "takes less pollen to cause the same intensity of symptoms," she said.

Scott Hawkins, public information director for the state Forestry Commission, said that while the discomfort is widespread, pine pollen has a plus side. It represents the "color of money," he said, since forestry and timber-related businesses mean a $17.45 billion impact on the state's economy.

While the pollen problem will eventually subside, there's still more uncomfortable times ahead for anyone living in the Lowcountry; mosquito season is just around the corner.