By Mary Fan
Coughing continues amidst warm weather
There has been a lot more coughing, wheezing and sneezing on campus this fall, and with more humid weather expected, it may not get better.
The Campus Health Center has seen a 25 percent to 35 percent increase in students showing symptoms of upper respiratory infections, said Lisette LeCorgne, the general coordinator for the Campus Health Acute Care Center.
LeCorgne attributed this rise in students going to the health center with sore throats, coughs and complaints of sneezing and itchy, watery eyes and noses to the humid weather.
She explained humid weather makes for greater mold count and an increase in the levels of some airborne pollens.
These molds and pollens are commonly encountered allergens, LeCorgne said. Allergens can provoke the immune system into releasing the vasodilator histamine which in turn triggers an inflammatory response from the body, she said. This inflammatory response produces the symptoms associated with allergies like hay fever.
High levels of pollens and molds may also make bodies more vulnerable to the viruses and bacteria associated with upper respiratory infections, LeCorgne said.
When inhaled at high levels, the pollens and molds can act like the rough points on sandpaper, abrading the surface of the respiratory tract. This process opens the respiratory system up for attack by bacteria and viruses, LeCorgne said.
Though rain washes the air clean of pollens, humid days following brief showers give molds and some pollens a favorable environment in which to live and proliferate, LeCorgne said.
A report commissioned by the Tucson Clinic showed that July to October is the peak period for mold counts because of summer monsoons.
Mold counts should die down toward the end of October but this pattern may be upset due to unusual weather patterns that scientists are cautioning may possibly lie ahead, LeCorgne said.
"There's a risk of changes in weather patterns including the possibility of an unusually wet winter for Tucson because of the anomalously high sea surface temperatures associated with El Niño," said Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Roger Davies.
If such predictions for a wet winter ahead come true, mold counts may remain high well into the coming months, LeCorgne said.
However, University Medical Center Pediatric Pulmonalogist Ben Wilford disagreed with the notion that humid days can produce an increase in respiratory infection.
Explaining that respiratory infections are largely viral, he noted that in some places too much humidity is blamed for respiratory ailments while in others places people claim too little humidity is the cause.
"I've become very skeptical about what weather means in terms of viral infections," Wilford said.
Risk factors vary from individual to individual, Wilford said.
For those who are hit by a respiratory ailment, LeCorgne, also a nurse practitioner, recommended the over-the-counter medications she found most effective in dealing with the two most common symptoms of respiratory ailments and allergies.
LeCorgne said she recommends plain Sudafed for nasal congestion or post nasal drip and the antihistamine Chlorpheniramine for alleviation of itching, watery eyes and sneezing.
Chlorpheniramine may cause drowsiness, she cautioned.
LeCorgne also advised doing "all the things your mother ever told you - getting rest, fluids and symptomatic treatment of fever."