By: Joe Feist
The oak pollen count topped 40,000 in San Antonio the weekend of April 10-11.
“Oh yeah, people are miserable,” said Edward Brooks, MD, professor of pediatrics and the chief of pediatric immunology and infectious disease at UT Health San Antonio. Worse than that, “all the trees pollinate at the same time, other than mountain cedar, meaning what you see on the news isn’t even counting all of it.”
What to do? One thing Dr. Brooks recommends should be old hat by now after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic: Wear a mask. It turns out that masks can not only reduce the spread of viruses but also reduce the symptoms of allergies, such as itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, congestion and sneezing.
“The pollen particles are much larger than virus particles,” Dr. Brooks said. “The mask will definitely help reduce inhaling lots of pollen. And if you inhale it, a lot of that pollen will make it into your mouth and upper lungs and trigger asthma-like symptoms.
“The hard thing is maybe people are outdoors, at the park jogging or biking, and it’s hard to breathe,” he added. “So the tendency is to take the mask off, although I’ve encouraged my patients to consider wearing a mask when they’re outside. Wearing glasses or goggles will also help prevent the eyes from getting hit.”
Dr. Brooks, who is a frequent speaker and consultant on airway inflammation caused by bacteria and air pollution as they relate to asthma, added that tree pollens tend to be highest in the morning. “So if people are going to go outdoors or to the park and they have bad allergies, I’d recommend they do it later in the day when the pollen counts are lower.”
But for those who suffer from allergies, he said, “Almost any mask will prevent inhalation. Anything is better than nothing.”
And, of course, there’s the added benefit of fighting the pandemic.