Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A 'Welcome Home' Bouquet of ... Pollen

'Virginia is for Lovers'. You'll frequently see this slogan on the back of some proud Virginian's bumper, or splashed across a store front. I think it relates to the rolling hills of the suburban towns, the grassy green, cow-spotted southern pastures, the dogwood-laden front lawns or a lovely purple and pink sunset across our wine vineyards. That's probably how the average non-allergy person would see it. Sounds great, right? Sure!

But for someone like myself, and the other 20% of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, stumbling blindly to their medicine cabinet every morning and reaching for a near-toxic dose of Claritin, Sudafed, eyedrops and nose spray (yep, we're a sexy bunch), we don't quite feel the same about Virginia's outdoors.  As serene as Loverland sounds, let me tell you that someone like me will only find this to be picturesque and romantic when safely protected from the outside air and behind the glass windows of a car or inside the solid walls of a restaurant while under the heavy mask of anti-allergen drugs. People like us know that the only tissues to buy are Puffs Plus with Lotion because after your thirteen hundredth nose blow of the morning, you won't be able to walk into that staff meeting without looking like Rudolph with swollen eyelids, unless you've been using the touchably-soft magic that is Puffs. Thank you, Proctor & Gamble.

Somehow the thought of my Nike's hitting concrete through picket-fence neighborhoods or taking a trail down by the Potomac on a warm spring evening after a long day at work always brainwashes me into thinking that I'm immune to the pollen. After being indoors all day, I can remember, even last summer, all I want to do is stretch my legs. It's always pleasant on the first half of the run. Then the eyes start itching a little bit. Next I'm rubbing my nose every block or two. Suddenly I'm sneezing so hard that it rocks my gait and I'm again, blindly sprinting for a cold rag and my medicine cabinet.

Tonight was no different. I've been trying to take meds every 12 hours or so, but I didn't think to take anything before my run tonight. I started out great on my first run since being back home in Virginia; briskly trotting 4.8 miles down and back Sydenstricker Road (here's my route!), taking in the baseball practices, homeward bound commuters and reminiscing about my boardwalk runs... when about halfway through, a gust of wind dropped forty three hundred pounds of dogwood blossoms onto the approaching path. Really, I weighed them.

I didn't see gorgeous, white blossoms descend slowly in the breeze and touch lightly upon the sidewalk. I saw a vortex of extrinsic proteins commanded by that 'beautiful' tree to attack the IgE on every mast cell in my head and provoke the immunoglobulin-mediated response of releasing histamine, tryptase, chymase, kinins, and heparin into my bloodstream sending my face into a mash of congestion, sneezing, itching, redness, tearing, swelling, ear pressure and postnasal drip. My mucous glands would be stimulated, leading to increased secretions. My vascular permeability would increase, leading to plasma exudation. My veins would dilate causing congestion and pressure and my sensory nerves would be stimulated into a fit of sneezing and itching. And that would be what's called only the 'immediate' or 'early' phase of the reaction. So what did I do? I ran around the death trap, across the road, and up the hill on the other side. *sigh* If only it was that easy. As you and I both know, pollen grains are everywhere: outdoors and indoors. Magically... I survived the run. I let the cool shower water seep into my eyeballs for about 15 minutes as soon as I got back home. So what did we learn? Run with a plastic bag over our heads. Drug up a solid 30 minutes before departure.

For my fellow allergy-suffering compadres out there, here are a few quick tips to take with you this season:
  • Make sure you shower after a day outdoors to get the pollen out of your hair, off your skin and out of your bed!
  • Drug up. Find out what meds work for you. Hopefully it's as simple as some over the counter anithistamines and decongestants though I've seen it as serious as monthly shots used to manage reactions. Get it under control so you can go about your busy days and nights as symptom free as possible.
  • As depressing as this sounds: stay indoors. If you have the option of eating outside or inside, just grab a table indoors by the window. It could be the difference of a sneeze-filled afternoon.
  • You will undoubtedly track pollen right onto the pillow that your face is stuffed in for seven hours of the night. Wash your sheets frequently and invest in a nice set of anti-allergen bedding.
  • Drink more water. Consuming half your body weight in ounces of water will thin mucous secretions and hydrate your mucous membrane tissues.
  • Consider an air purifier with a HEPA filtration system for your house to help decrease the amount of pollenated air entering your house.
According to, I live in one of the highest pollen producing states in the entire country. Alllllrighty then! I'm popping my Loratadine and tucking in under my brand new anti-allergen bed set. Would you still be my friend if I wore a doctor's mask every day for the next four months...?


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