Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Spring is here officially in the northern hemisphere. The natural world is surging back to life. Flowers are blooming, green shoots are bursting dramatically from the ground, the trees are popping, and the pollen is flying around.

Have you ever looked at microscopic photos of pollen particles? They're very cool looking: spheres of many colors (though mostly in the yellow to green range), punked out with spikes. Pollen is a lot like the loop side of a strip of velcro. The particles stick to whatever they touch, and stuff sticks to them. I suppose that's the point.

Allergies have become much more serious in the United States in recent decades. I don't think there is any official theory about why. My guess is that it's complicated, the result of the way we live here now, sealed off from the natural world so much of the time. We bathe too much, we medicate ourselves too much. And we don't really move around as much as we were meant to, hence we have made ourselves weaker.

I also think allergies are worse, particularly in cities, because pollution clings to those spiky spheres. We breathe in pollen that's laden with molecules of lead from auto exhaust and other toxins. The pollen lodges somewhere in our sinuses. The next thing you know, we're sneezing like maniacs, that is, if we have immune systems that are functioning.

Most people who have serious allergies take some sort of medication to alleviate the symptoms. There are many different medical approaches, some more elaborate than others. Some of us prefer herbs, tinctures, and homeopathic remedies to the harsher mainstream remedies. Others drink medicinal tea, receive acupuncture. Then there are those of us who do all of the above. The itching eyes and nose, the sneezing and dripping and tearing of the eyes can be every bit as bad as having a bad case of the flu. We'll do anything to feel better.

When there are a million different remedies out there for any malady, what that means is there is no reliable way to deal with whatever is making you suffer. This goes for colds and the flu as well. Whatever you do, you'll feel better in 3-7 days. With allergies, when summer arrives and the pollen settles, you'll be able to breathe.

If you're allergic to spring, have you tried to figure out the particulars? I, for instance, am most virulently allergic to oak and grass pollen. Here in DC where we have zillions of oak trees, there are days when you can literally see green dust floating through the air. On those days I stay indoors, close the windows. This is a kindness I do for myself because I'm violently allergic. During the rest of the season, my formula includes regular acupuncture, a cocktail of homeopathic spritzes, Chinese medicinal tea, and Claritin. Does it work? I don't know, but I have to try.

I have spoken at great length with my acupuncturist about plant allies and enemies. Almost everyone is allergic to poison ivy, for instance, while it's rare to find anyone who doesn't love the smell of lavender. Why do we think we shouldn't be allergic to certain plants, or to certain parts of the life cycle of the natural world? He told me once that if I were "saintly" (his word) I could abide peacefully with the wild green orgy of the oaks. I am decidedly NOT saintly, and may I say that in the midst of their springtime orgy, neither are the oaks!

If you're saintly, then you're set. If not, take good care this spring, if you have allergies. Gesundheit!


kbrow said...

I am not bothered by this particular time of year; beyond a bit of brain fog. I think part of the reason for my vigor is that Winter leaves me so SAD that Spring, even with its pollen haze, brings me and my immune system right back up to full fighting strength. Even the brain fog might just be from giddiness.

Be well. Wishing for warm spring rains to settle all this yellow dust!

Reya Mellicker said...

This is before the green dust. Usually it's worst at the end of April. I expect it to arrive early just like the cherries.

Right now at this lull in the season is when it's my tradition to think, "Maybe it won't be so bad this year."