Seasonal allergies strike in Steamboat with early arrival of spring weather |

Seasonal allergies strike in Steamboat with early arrival of spring weather

— The fate of allergy sufferers in Routt County was sealed during the last week in March when temperatures reached 60 degrees and higher during seven days and tree pollen counts spiked.

The early arrival of spring weather meant people could go for long bike rides and begin weeding gardens earlier in the year than most could remember ever doing before. But the same mild conditions meant they were sure to encounter invisible tree pollens.

Nobody knows that better than Steamboat Springs School District Health Services Team Leader Dot Haberlan. Not only is her staff seeing students suffering from allergies on a daily basis, but Haberlan is experiencing the familiar itchy eyes herself.

"Every year, I get so excited for spring and for things to turn green," Haberlan said. "And then I go, 'Oh yeah, now I remember.' As soon as things start to get green, my allergy symptoms return."

Haberlan doesn't have firm numbers on how many local schoolchildren her staff has seen during this early allergy season, but she knows they are showing up in school nurses' offices in numbers that typically don't materialize until late this month. And one thing's for sure: Itchy eyes, congestion and resulting sinus headaches, not to mention related nosebleeds from dry nasal passages, don't help students stay on task.

"It's fairly pervasive," Haberlan said. "We're seeing a lot of miserable kids."

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Dr. Kristen Fahrner said her Steamboat Springs practice saw the results of the early onset of spring weather.

"It's crazy," Fahrner said this week. "Pollen counts were already going higher in February this year. But all it takes is three straight days of 60 to 65 degrees" and allergy season kicks in hard.

Fahrner is an ear, nose and throat specialist who is board certified to treat allergies. She regularly treats 150 patients who come to her for allergy shots that can lead to long-term relief from a variety of allergies. But this spring, the number of patients coming in with extremely itchy eyes is growing, and most of them are suffering from a reaction to tree pollen.

"Most people think of pollen from pine trees, which is visible," Fahrner said. However, the pollen that is causing problems for people now is invisible to the eye.

"We're having pollen from box elder and junipers, and cottonwoods are just beginning," Fahrner said.

Dr. Mark Ebadi, of the Colorado Allergy and Asthma Center, told The Denver Post this spring that gusty spring winds and a lack of precipitation, which would have kept dust down, have exacerbated the situation.

The first line of defense, Fahrner said, is to stay inside and keep windows closed. And even in the case of people who aren't allergic to cat dander, for example, it's a good idea to keep pets outdoors as much as possible because their coats tend to catch pollen and introduce it into the home.

The next step is to try over-the-counter antihistamines like Claritin and Allegra that can bring relief from itchy eyes. Haberlan said that her staff couldn't administer those remedies without a written order from a family physician but that many students with allergy issues take one of those all-day pills before coming to school. Allergists warn against students taking Benadryl because it has more of a sedative component than other over-the-counter pills.

For patients who don't experience success with those remedies or people who suffer particularly from congestion, the next step is to go to a physician and seek a prescription for corticosteroids like Flonase and Nasonex.

Because tree pollen counts tend to peak in the middle of the night, some allergists urge patients to take those drugs before they go to sleep at night. Fahrner prefers to interview her patients about their daily routines. For people who enjoy gardening on spring mornings, for example, she may suggest they wait to take corticosteroids until morning.

For patients whose allergy symptoms are severe and who don't get relief from prescription drugs, Fahrner said, a regiment of shots (that sometimes extends for years) can bring "holistic, long-term" relief.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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