FRESNO — Allergy season has arrived with a big sneeze.
Warm, dry weather in the early spring has created a bumper crop of pollen to irritate eyes and noses, allergy doctors say.
"We're seeing a lot of high pollen counts," said Dr. Kelvin Lee, a Kaiser Permanente-Fresno allergy specialist. "Intensity-wise, it's pretty miserable."
The next several weeks could be some of the nose-blowing worst for patients with allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. Hay fever season hit its stride in the San Joaquin Valley last month and has been on a roll since.
"Whenever you have a dry year, plants become nervous, and along with the warm weather, they try to release more pollen just for survival," said Dr. A.M. Aminian.
And this hay fever season could be a long one.
The rain showers that passed through the valley on Monday could prolong the hay fever misery, he said.
"You think it washes out the pollen, but on the other hand, it just helps with more pollination."
On Monday, Sara Mirhadi-Offen, 40, of Fresno, was making an appointment to see Aminian.
She was having a really bad allergy day, which she attributed to opening her windows Sunday for some fresh air.
"When the wind started to pick up I did not shut my windows quick enough," she said. "Now, my eyes are itching like crazy; they're red and swollen. I'm sniffling and sneezing. I'm just a mess."
People with hay fever have immune systems that see pollen as an enemy and send out chemicals called histamines to attack. Histamines cause the itchy eyes, runny noses and scratchy throats.
Doctors say there are ways to stop the allergic response, including taking allergy medications and using prescription nasal sprays. But a simple solution of salt water washes pollen and pollution out of nostrils.
For many people, their immune systems have yet to work overtime, because the worst of the valley's pollen season is yet to come.
The most notorious pollen producer -- the olive tree -- traditionally blossoms toward the end of April and early May, peak allergy season in the valley. This year, olive trees have yet to let go of their pollen bounty.
Pine, oak, mulberry, ash and birch trees have been pumping out pollen. Bermuda grasses are another allergy culprit, according to the Baz Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center in Fresno.
Dr. Praveen Buddiga of the Baz center said olive pollen should be plentiful -- and nose damaging -- soon.
"Every year in Fresno we've seen olive in the second week of April."
Buddiga believes the lateness of olive pollen could signal a longer hay fever season than normal. Usually the season ends by early June, but this year, he expects it could be a couple of weeks longer.
Dr. Richard DeMera said every allergy season is different, but this one could last through June. "We see years like that."