Pollen May Cause Athletes and Fans to "Hit the Wall"

Jun 12, 2014

With the NCAA Track and Field Championships underway in Eugene, thousands of athletes and their fans will spend hours at historic Hayward Field in the thick of pollen season.  KLCC's Tiffany Eckert visited a leading allergist to learn just how bad it is out there and what allergic athletes can do.

Grass Pollen under a microscope.
Credit Oregon Allergy Associates

Dr. Kraig Jacobson has been a physician allergist in Track Town USA for 36 years.  Right now, his Allergy Associates office is busy.
 
Dr. Jacobson: "Hello there Kevin how you doing today?"
 
Patient: "Pretty good, Allergies are bad for everyone it seems like."

Dr. Jacobson: "This has been a brutal weekend hasn't it."

Patient:"It has it has. The Track Meets, a lot of athletes in agony…"

Dr. Jacobson: "And you coach!"

Patient: "I do coach, yea."

So far, Dr. Jacobson calls this a "moderately bad" allergy season. Some who suffer from Hay Fever may disagree.
Dr. Jacobson uses a specialized vacuum designed to collect pollen from the air and physically count them under a microscope. On a glass slide, grass pollen look like blobs while some tree pollens have tiny spikes.

Runners competing at Hayward Field
Credit KLCC

"Ever since the Prefontaine Classic we've been 460 some in that range to 500-600, every day. And it will continue."

When the grass pollen isn't flying, a low pollen count is between zero and four particles per cubic meter.  

"The factors that really contribute to this is the consecutive dry weather, the wind out of the north when the grass is ready to pollinate and it is pollinating now."
People coming to Eugene for the NCAA Track and Field Championships will experience what locals already know: It's allergy season.  Here, athletes aren't the only ones who could "hit the wall." Eugene is currently hosting a veritable wall of sticky, sneeze-inducing pollen.

Fans hit em: "Some of the fans come here and they don't know what hit 'em."

The good doctor has spent years at track and field events, helping allergic athletes at Hayward Field.  Dr. Jacobson says in order for them to treat pollen allergies like hay fever with medications takes some planning -- because of drug testing.

"There's a special procedure called the Therapeutic Use Exemption or T-U-E that has to be done."

That means testing, paperwork and advance approval from officials.
"They're really looking for cheaters."

Dr. Jacobson warns grass and tree pollens will be in the air of the Southern Willamette Valley until at least the 4th of July.  And, he says masks don't really work—the pollen particulate is just too small and it's an unfortunate fashion statement.