Hay fever time is here -- grab the hankies!

August 25, 1996|By Jacques Kelly

THE BALTIMORE hay fever agony season tickles the respiratory system with an early harvest of misery. May those who suffer from this affliction be shown mercy.

Anyone who is tormented by the August-September sneezing; watery, scarlet eyes; nasal complaints; reddened eyes; and generally foul moods has reason to worry. This has been an extremely wet summer. The weeds and grasses remain as lush as they were in May. I fear a bumper crop of whatever it is that sends me to my handkerchief drawer. Again and again.

Hay fever arrives like the first snowstorm. Each comes to town with one little greeting. With snow, it's that first flake you spot. With hay fever, it's the first sneeze. The others follow. Immediately.

Over the years I've learned how to deal with this condition. Stay out of the garden. Hire others to pull and bag that stunning crop of August weeds. Don't take any hikes along woodland paths. No matter how much you are tempted to visit a Carroll County orchard and pick your own apples, buy them in baskets at the farmer's roadside stand.

At all costs, avoid places such as Southern Maryland tobacco barns, where I once suffered a spectacular hay fever attack, followed by a brain-splitting headache, that has left me apprehensive of the state's highway called 301. I think of that road as Hay Fever Highway.

Hay fever here is a part of the late-summer scene, like all the bees that swarm the cotton candy vendors at the Maryland State Fair at Timonium. (Sufferers should be cautious of the livestock barns at the fair too. A trip to visit the cows and pigs can leave you puffy- and red-eyed.)

Here's another tip. If you're sneezing, and suffering from the temporary blindness that hay fever brings, look out for any mud puddles and sticky apple booths at the fair. A bee sting on top of an afternoon of hay fever suffering is the ultimate seasonal insult.

Part of hay fever's symptoms is the personal mortification this wretched plague brings.

Here's how this component works:

You have a private appointment with the boss, your pastor, a job interviewer or maybe the latest love interest in your life.

Your nose and eyes tickle. Then, in machine-gun succession, come 12 or 13 loud nostril-throat explosions directly in front of the other person. He or she solicitously asks if you're OK. You sneeze six or seven times again.

Don't ask me why this time of the year. On Maryland roadsides and in city vacant lots, the bright yellow goldenrod is in full bloom. I used to blame this pretty plant until the society of goldenrod enthusiasts set me right. Don't blame this plant. It's not its fault.

I don't anymore. In fact, this year I spent $4.50 on a nice goldenrod from a Baltimore County plant nursery. It's now thriving in my garden. It's lovely stuff, except I have to confine my attempts at gardening to all of 15 minutes. If I stay out in the grass, under a tree that likes to shed seed pods this time of year, I'll be in the allergy clinic before suppertime.

The one medicine that friends do offer is advice. People tell me that if I had central air conditioning in my home all my sneezing would cease. They tell me to get shots. They suggest I take pills.

You get advice, but no respect.

Other people are skeptical of hay fever as being just another allergy and a stupid one at that. Hay fever ranks far below the level of allergic respect won by those can't touch a cat or drink goat's milk.

People allergic to cats, according to this logic, truly suffer and grow symptomatic. Hay fever, on the other hand, is generic and laughable. And merely seasonal.

Once in my life did I make hay fever work to my benefit. It was September 1959. My father had business in Atlantic City and I wanted to go along. I got let out of school three hours early so I could enjoy the salt air, once believed to be a curative. Some time later, I asked my teacher if she had missed me or thought the absence would undermine my fourth-grade academic career.

"No, indeed," Sister Mary Maurice said as she assessed my seasonal nuisance status, "We wanted to get you out of the class so the rest of us could get some work done."

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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