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Allergy Season Hits Hard This Year

Across the Northeast and upper Midwest this month, misery has found a lot of company. Allergies have become more severe and pollen more prevalent. CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

In Waterbury Connecticut, the pollen count is more than 2,000 grains per cubic meter. In Milwaukee, it is more than 1,400; in Armonk, New York, it is nearly 1,500--more than ten times what doctors would normally consider high.

For 4-year-old Julianna Federico, this season has become a mean season. For her mother, it has been a frightening one. Her mother called a pediatrician recently after Julianna lost her voice due to allergies.

But with 35 million other Americans all coughing, wheezing, and scratching, just getting a doctor’s appointment is difficult. Many doctors are extremely overloaded with allergy patients. Doctors say that allergy drugs are also in short supply.

"The pharmacists are as frazzled as the patients are. Everything is back ordered . . . it's a crisis," says allergist Joel Mendelson.

At one New Jersey pharmacy, every third prescription is now for an allergy drug. Allergy drugs have "absolutely, absolutely been flying off the shelves," says pharmacist Rica Pine.

This season may be the worst on record--but it's been getting worse for years. Asthma--often triggered by allergies--has increased 75% over the last two decades. Some scientists are not surprised. The US Department of Agriculture estimates the amount of ragweed pollen in the air may have doubled over the last 50 years, due in part, it says, to global warming.

The report showed that increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the air made plants grow faster--and produce more pollen. That could mean another doubling by the end of the 21st century--which leads to a nagging question: If this season is the worst so far, just how bad can bad get?

Meanwhile, a federal advisory panel has decided that three popular allergy drugs are safe enough to sell without prescription, but experts say the path to over-the-counter sales may be strewn with legal and other problems.

In an action Friday that narrowly focused on the safety of Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec, members of a Food and Drug Administration committee overwhelmingly voted in support of the drugs being sold without doctor approval. The FDA will make the final decision.

Some on the 23-member advisory panel urged that strong warnings be included in the labeling of the allergy drugs if they are sold over the counter.

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