FAIRBANKS—Laboratory technician Susan Harry knew the birch pollen count in Fairbanks was high. Her son suffers from allergies; all she had to do was look at his eyes.
But when she looked through her microscope Monday morning and began counting the pollen, she was a bit stunned.
“This has been the highest single count that we have had,” she said.
Harry monitors the pollen counter located on the roof of the Tanana Valley Clinic on Noble Street and performs the necessary laboratory work to come up with a number, which doctors use for prescribing allergy remedies.
The birch pollen count for Monday was 4,290, breaking a record of 3,900 from two years ago.
People are suffering, said allergy doctor Tim Foote. But he said relief is on the way in an expected rain storm that should dampen the pollen explosion.
“It will knock it down significantly,” he said.
The surge of birch pollen has caused a run on allergy medication in Fairbanks.
“We got hit pretty hard,” said Kevin Menninger, assistant grocery manager at Fred Meyer on the Old Steese Highway.
Nearby, Walgreens also reportedly did a brisk business in allergy medication over the weekend.
Harry said birch pollen usually peaks a few days after the start of greenup.
The fine yellow powder is irritating to allergy sufferers’ eyes, causes cold-like symptoms, and can be dangerous to people with asthma.
Harry said Fairbanks was due for a high birch pollen year, but the dry spring has exacerbated it this season.
“It’s kind of cyclical,” Harry said, “but you put the perfect combination of weather in and it exploded.”
Tanana Valley Clinic has been performing the birch pollen count since 2000.
“I didn’t know it was going to be a record high,” Harry said.
Foote said over-the-counter allergy medication and lifestyle changes can ease the symptoms of allergy sufferers. Wearing a hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeve shirt while outdoors helps, he said.
“When you come in from that environment, wash your eyewear, change your clothes into indoor clothing and just make a pact not to touch your eyes,” he said.
Foote said it can be hard to resist the temptation to touch itchy eyes.
“You want to grind them out. It’s very uncomfortable,” he said. “It can be a significant impact on quality of life.”
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.