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Unusually heavy pollen season getting underway in Finland

While the birch and grass pollen season hasn't started, high levels of alder tree pollen will likely cause worsening symptoms for allergy sufferers this week.

Alpollen
File photo of alder catkins, one pollen source causing runny noses, eye irritations, sneezes and other allergy symptoms for many across much of Finland. Image: Yle/Eila Haikarainen

Large clouds of nearly-invisible alder pollen are headed across Finland this week, according to forecasts from the University of Turku's aerobiology unit.

Many experts are forecasting an very difficult pollen season in Finland this year. Around 10-20 percent of people in Finland, a country with about 5.5 million residents, suffer from pollen allergies.

According to the Allergy Skin and Asthma Association's (official name Allergia-, iho- ja astmaliitto) research coordinator Tiina Vitikainen, this year's pollen season began earlier than previous years and the amount of pollen in the air is expected to be high.

"Alder catkins (the pollen-rich flowers on alder trees) haven't reached their peak yet, but there are a lot of them. There can be four to five million pollen particles in a single catkin," Vitikainen explained.

Allergy-prone individuals across southern and central Finland in particular will probably see an increase in symptoms as the week continues, according to Turku University's pollen-tracking site.

"Most people with allergies have likely already begun to notice the symptoms," Vitikainen speculated.

Drugs, drops and sprays help

Specialist physician Péter Csonka from private health firm Terveystalo said that now would be a good time for pollen-sensitive people to start taking medication.

"Antihistamines help itchy noses and sneezing symptoms. Their [the drugs] effect doesn't last long but start to work within a couple of hours," Csonka said, but noted that antihistamines aren't useful as a preventative measure, however, because they provide few benefits.

Nasal sprays and eye drops can also be useful to treat runny nose and eye irritation symptoms, he said.

"It's good to begin using a nasal spray before your nose is stuffed up and eye drops before your eyes are all red," he said, adding that nasal cavity flushing method - often referred to as neti pots - can also bring relief.

The Allergy, Skin and Asthma Association also has tips on how to reduce allergy symptoms, but the methods aren't medicinal in nature.

Keep it clean

The group suggests that people thoroughly clean their homes at least once a week.

It also recommends the allergy prone not to hang their laundry to dry outdoors during the pollen season, which is effectively from early spring through mid autumn.

People's symptoms tend to peak at certain times of the day, according to the association the best time for those with pollen allergies to head outside is in the morning and late evening.

The allergy-prone should also avoid heavy cardiovascular exercise during the season, and the association also recommends people to rinse their hair before heading to bed at night to keep dust from the bedroom.

The main plant species that cause allergic reactions in Finland include alder, birch, hay, mugwort and ragweed.

Birch pollen causes the most problems for people in the country, but Csonka said that cross-allergies are also very common.

He said that people with birch pollen allergies are also likely affected by pollen from other leafy trees, as well.

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