Annual attack of sneeze fevers -- rose and hay

May 03, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Rose fever or hay fever.

Whatever the name, it's pure agony.

And it's in the air.

The other day I was sweeping my wooden front porch. The boards were dusted with something that resembled dry mustard powder. It was in the air. It was everywhere. Science calls it


Within minutes, my eyes were red. I was coughing and sneezing. Again. And again. Then three more upper respiratory eruptions. By comparison, the downtown noontime Monday air raid whistle sounds quiet.

In recent years, we've taken to calling this condition allergies, but the seasonal names are more descriptive and less clinical.

Rose fever is what hits you in the spring. It's such a nice name for such a nasty, irritating malady. Just when the rose bushes are leafing and budding, the terrible torment begins.

There is medicine, but the cure is often worse than the curse. After popping one of those allergy-control pills, you'll sleep for the next 12 hours.

The last few weeks have been brutal for those prone to rose fever in Baltimore. Rose and hay fever sufferers tend to be stricken at either the early baseball or early football seasons. It's a sad victim who gets hit by both. The afflicted often remark about which variety troubles them the worse.

It's hard to predict when the spring variety will begin and be at its height. Personal observation allows me to comment on the fall onslaught. There's an unchallenged law about hay fever in Baltimore. It arrives August 15. Bingo! Get the handkerchiefs out.

Go into hiding. Avoid at all costs the Maryland State Fair at Timonium. The cow palace is particularly apt to set off an attack. So too Caroline County Silver Queen corn fields during this period of danger.

There are other sources. Smoky five-alarm fires are bad. So are overly powdered and perfumed maiden aunts in a mood for kissing. Any building demolition site on a windy day is trouble. Churches that use incense are also potential red-eye zones.

Hay/rose fever attacks are brutal and embarrassing. They rarely occur in the privacy of your own home, like a bout with a cold or flu. They take place in public, so that when your eyes turn the color of a fire engine people start murmuring, "Boy, was Kelly on a toot last night. He does like the Scotch. I bet it was Johnnie Walker Red. Hee hee."

Thank you. That's not the way it happens. Nonsufferers are not very helpful. They lack sympathy and compassion. They think it's all in your mind and imply at the very least there's nothing the matter. At worst, they suggest you're neurotic and prone to getting the vapors.

I can recall the day, time and place of my worst-ever adult hay fever attack. It was in Upper Marlboro in the big tobacco auction barn there. It was a hot and dry September Saturday.

There were stacked piles of loose tobacco leaves. It was tinder dry and must have been filled with the invading particles that set me off. I was like a sneeze machine. By the end of the afternoon I had a throbbing headache and could barely see. The people I was with thought I was annoying. They were breathing the same air but remained unaffected.

An earlier time, I was in Philadelphia. I was 13 and being taken to the Franklin Institute. There was a smell-sampling exhibit that boys my age couldn't resist. I inhaled a dose of moth flakes, or rather the odor of moth flakes, and was sneezing for the next two days. That was 31 years ago and my family will not let it die.

Baltimoreans try for remedies. We pray for damp or rainy weather. The popular wisdom is that moisture wets the pollen down and keeps it less airborne. I don't know. All rain really does is produce sinus headaches. And if sinusitis really troubles you, move to another city fast.

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