Early allergy season hits South

ATLANTA – A warm spell in the Southeast that has brought people out in shorts and T-shirts in January has also given rise to a fair-weather phenomenon: allergy attacks.

Doctors and pharmacists are reporting a surge in sniffles, sneezes and coughs — and not from ordinary winter colds, either.

“We’re selling a lot more allergy than cold medicine,” said Richard Miller, owner of Miller’s Rexall Drugs in Atlanta. He said he has not seen such a warm spell — and such allergy-medicine sales in the middle of the winter — “in years and years.”

In Atlanta, 62-year-old Margaret Lovejoy was surprised to suffer a flare-up of her asthma in the winter.

“I’ve been having asthma this whole two weeks,” she said.

While much of the rest of the nation is shivering amid the usual January ice and snow, the Southeast has been basking under a high-pressure system since just after Christmas that has kept cold fronts at bay and sent the mercury climbing as high as the mid-70s.

Charlotte, N.C., has either hit or approached daily records in the past several days, with temperatures in the 70s. Memphis, Tenn., reached nearly 63 degrees, well above the usual readings in the 40s. Jackson, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala., have been running about 20 degrees above normal.

It is not pollen that is causing the misery, but mold, said Dr. Keith Phillips, an associate professor with Emory University’s division of allergy and immunology. Mold thrives in warmer weather and has a “wonderful” place to grow on vegetation that has died in the winter, he said.

Phillips said people with mold allergies should not rake leaves or do other lawn work and gardening that could disturb the mold and release spores into the air.

At Giant Genie Pharmacy in Charlotte, N.C., owner Robby Jones is getting dozens of calls from customers complaining about allergy symptoms. He can relate to their problems: “With all the mold and mildew around my allergies have gone crazy.”

Winter weather is fighting back, though, with temperatures in the 50s forecast for Friday and Saturday.

“It’s a pretty sure bet that winter will return,” said Mike Strickler of the National Weather Service in Raleigh, N.C.

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