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N.C. sees record-high pollen counts

Cars in the Blue Zone dusted with a yellow powder, people with itchy eyes and a student health clinic packed full of Dukies clamoring for antihistamine can only mean one thing-pollen season is in full swing.

According to the rankings compiled by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill all rank within the top 50 worst cities to live with allergies. Charlotte placed ninth, Greensboro was ranked 29th and the Triangle was tabbed 48th. The rankings, released yesterday, were calculated according to the city's average pollen score, among other factors.

If this season's pollen count is any indication, North Carolina ratings may jump even higher next year.

Pollen counts-which are measured by sampling how many grains are in the air per cubic meter during a specific period of time-are the highest they have been since 1999, said Tom Mather, a spokesman for the N.C. Division of Air Quality.

"In most years, within a one week period, readings will get around 1,000, and usually peak at 1,500," he said. "So far this year, we've already had two days that have been over 2,000 and seven days that have been over 1,000."

April 2, pollen counts reached a staggering 2,957-not even this season's peak, he added.

So why the preponderance of pollen?

"We did have a pretty mild winter, except for a little in February," Mather said. "My speculation is that we had a lot of trees blooming, and then in February because it was so cold, it pushed [pollination] back.

"So we have a more compressed season for flowering because we have trees blooming in April, too," he added.

Pollen counts can also be aggravated by warm, dry weather and can stay until heavy rains come, Mary Clark, a pollen measurer for the N.C. Division of Air Quality, told The Raleigh News and Observer.

Whatever the reason for the pollen season, students have been flocking to Duke's Student Health Clinic for relief, said Jean Hanson, administrative director of Student Health.

In the three weeks since Spring Break, 122 students have visited Student Health for the treatment of allergies-a number that does not include those students who completed a Cold/Flu/Allergy form and got their medications directly from the pharmacy, Hanson said.

In the same period of time last year, the clinic saw 94 students.

"It's important to give them something that won't make them sleep-the main concern for students is that they want relief from allergies but don't want to be drowsy," Hanson said.

Many students who may not typically suffer from allergies are also visiting the clinic.

"Many [students] are coming from other areas and they may not have had reactions to pollen at home, but they do here because [the pollens] are different," Hanson said. "So they could say, 'Well, I've never had allergies before,' and now they have a runny nose and itchy eyes."

For some students, however, seasonal allergies have always been a problem, and this year is no exception.

"It's been ridiculous-I've barely gone out, I stay indoors. It's making my throat hurt for the first time in my life," said senior Norah Yahya. "This has been one of the worst [seasons] since I've been here. My eyes have almost swollen shut, so I think that says something."

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