Burning sugarcane fields may make allergies worse

While the rest of the country may be breathing easy this time of year, around Acadiana, allergy sufferers are still sneezing into fall.

“It's what I call the trifecta. Pollen and weed count is still peaking in the fall along with mold and especially sugarcane mold.”

Dr. Brent Prather, a Lafayette allergist specialist says mold counts are typically very high year-round in South Louisiana. But what a lot of people may not know is sugarcane burning may be adding to the problem.  After the crop is harvested, farmers often burn what's called the left-over “leaf trash.” The sugarcane mold then circulates the air and tends to flare up certain kinds of allergies.

“It's called sugarcane smut and it's specific to the sugarcane stalk,” said Prather. “And when they harvest the sugar cane, it releases in the air and if you're downwind of it, it can be toxic and it can increase your allergies.”

Prather says his practice usually sees an uptick in asthma, hay fever, and sinus infections during harvest time—September, October, and November. While there's no escaping the airborne allergens, especially for those who live around the fields, taking extra measures can certainly help.

“They need to roll up their windows in their car if they're driving and see any sugarcane harvesting going on. And they need to stay inside with windows closed if they can,” said Prather.

Although he doesn't expect allergies to let up until late December, in the meantime, there's plenty of symptom relief between anti-histamines, nasal sprays, and allergy shots.

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