Warm, wet weather sets stage for seasonal allergies in Pittsburgh
March 22, 2017 12:00 AM
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
The last week of February was the opening week for tree pollen in the Pittsburgh region.
By Jill Daly / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Despite a brief reprieve early this month, higher temperatures in February and a good amount of rain got things going with seasonal allergies earlier than usual this year, according to Allison Freeman, Allegheny Health Network allergist/immunologist.
The last week of February was the opening week for tree pollen, Dr. Freeman said. “We didn’t get a decent frost and the root base of trees got lots of water.” Snow and cold put that on hold, but now that warmer temperatures are forecast, the pollen has returned this week.
“Our true spring has finally arrived,” she said.
“It’s similar to the early season in 2012,” she said. Because the plants are healthy and well fed, the pollen released is intense. Early trees start the wave of pollen for a three- to four-week period. For example, cedar, maple and ash trees start sending out pollen in February and March. Late bloomers, such as cottonwood, tack on another four weeks of pollen after that.
“People with both seasonal allergies get eight weeks. Then the grass season starts in early April,” Dr. Freeman said.
“Last year, we had a snowstorm April 9 and that put everything to bed,” she said. Pollen counts were down and it wasn’t a bad season for people with allergies.
It was another story in 2015, she said, a cold winter delayed the tree and grass seasons. But then they hit at the same time, she said: “We had a pollen tsunami on May 5.” The pollen triggered asthma attacks for many people, she noted.
This year things got started in February and the tree and grass seasons should wind up in mid-June. Dr. Freeman predicted a longer allergy season that includes another outdoor allergen that thrives in the warmer, moist weather: mold.
Dr. Freeman said allergy to mold usually kicks in around March 1 and molds are present all spring, summer and fall. But levels of mold were worse than usual this winter, she said.
For those who aren’t sure if they have allergies, she pointed out the difference between flu and allergy symptoms:
“If there’s congestion, nasal drainage, coughing, sneezing, it might be allergies. If there’s no fever, it’s more likely. Itching and sneezing are more common among allergy sufferers.”
Dr. Freeman has three pieces of advice for those who do have seasonal allergies:
1. Keep windows closed. If temperatures are mild there shouldn’t be a need to turn on air conditioning yet.
2. Keep humidity down. Less than 40 percent is best. “We urge people to be careful with humidifiers and vaporizers if they have an allergy — don’t use vaporizers at all.”
3. Start your medicine. “They need to be on their medicines now and stay on them for eight weeks or so. We usually recommend something oral (such as Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec) and something nasal (Flonase, Rhinocort, or another over-the-counter corticosteroid spray). If that’s not working, see an allergist; a prescription may be necessary.”
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