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Hay fever may hit 1/3 of Oly athletes in Sydney

SHARE Hay fever may hit 1/3 of Oly athletes in Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Sydney in springtime could spell problems for up to one-third of the Olympic athletes heading Down Under next month, an allergy specialist said Wednesday.

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Dr. Connie Katelaris as saying that hay fever and other allergies could be a problem because of spring pollens in the air. The first day of spring in the southern hemisphere is Sept. 1, and the Games begin two weeks later.

Katelaris, a Westmead Hospital allergy specialist who has been studying the pollen levels at Games sites for the past six years, said the allergic response to the pollens could affect athletic performance.

Most Olympic competitions are held in northern hemisphere late summers or autumns, when allergy-provoking pollens are not common.

Katelaris tested 977 Australian athletes in September of last year and found 37 percent had an allergy to at least one of eight common spring irritants, including dust mite, grass and tree pollens and molds.

The athletes were given standard hay fever treatments, inhaling corticosteroids through their nose. More than half said their symptoms improved.

"Coughing and congestion can interrupt sleep, while itchy eyes and sneezing can make getting through a training session or competition very uncomfortable," she said.

Katelaris said her research hasn't been kept a secret from other international teams — papers were presented at an allergy conference this year in Lisbon and published in an American-based allergy journal — exposure which led to overseas awareness of the problem.

"South Africa, we know, which has a very similar climate pattern to ours, has scrutinized their team and offered them treatment," she said. "We have had calls from France, the U.K. and North America."