2014 summer allergy season could start up quickly
FARGO — Load up on tissues and antihistamines now, Red River Valley allergy sufferers — it could be a long spring and summer.
The cold winter finally ended in recent weeks, making way for the first blast of warm weather in months. But Woei Yeang Eng, an allergy and asthma specialist with Sanford Health, said the sudden warm-up also could cause an intense start to allergy season.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen allergy season coming gradually,” he said. “You start noticing little symptoms get worse, worse, worse. This year, probably we’re going to see a burst of allergy season because of the way that the weather’s going right now.”
In some ways, things are shaping up for a relatively average allergy season here, according to Linda Regan, a physician assistant at Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo.
But the actual conditions will depend on temperatures and rainfall this year, she said. Moisture can remove pollen from the air, but too much can lead to mold.
If it’s a dry summer, Regan said, dust just adds to the air pollution, making for misery and irritation.
Some national reports have predicted it will be the worst allergy season in years, warning of high pollen counts and an intense first few weeks of spring because of the cold, wild winter. But she said that’s more likely to apply to other areas of the country, especially the Northeast where heavy rains and snowfall could mean a bad time for allergy sufferers.
“When it does get warm, the trees will pollinate all at about the same time, and then you get quite a heavy pollen load,” she said.
The cold winter here may have been a blessing in disguise, Regan said — a warm March would’ve meant an earlier start to the already long pollen season.
Unfortunately, Eng said there are several other allergens that could be troublesome this year.
In a normal allergy season, he said, the Red River Valley would experience three distinct “bumps” — tree pollen in the spring; grass in the late spring and early summer; and ragweed, weeds and wheat later in the summer and early fall until the first hard freeze.
But because spring started late, Eng said allergy sufferers here won’t get the short breaks between those three “bumps” in 2014.
“This year will be ongoing because they’re so close together,” he said.
Some research suggests allergy sufferers across the country could have more problems because of climate change, Regan said. The average allergy season is now 16 to 27 days longer, and pollen counts are expected to double by 2040.
“What’s happened as the planet’s getting warmer, we’re seeing climate changes where there’s an early spring, late-ending fall, a large amount of rain and snow, and just with heating up and the droughts and dust,” she said. “On top of that, the high levels of carbon dioxide in the air actually nourish the trees and plants that make pollen.”
Still, Regan said there are ways to prevent or reduce allergy season misery.
Users of steroid nasal sprays should start taking the medication at least a week or two before they expect their first allergy symptoms, she said, because it takes time to become fully effective.
Pollen counts usually are at their highest from 5 to 10 a.m., so it’s better to mow or do yard work later in the day if possible, she said. After being outdoors, she said it’s a good idea to take a shower, change clothes and clean out the nasal passages with a saline nasal spray to remove bothersome allergens.
Eng said sufferers also should get tested to determine their specific allergies — or to rule it out for those who’ve just assumed in the past that their stuffy noses or sinus infections were caused by allergies.
Checking pollen counts can help keep people prepared as well, and Eng said keeping car and house windows shut during the day can help keep indoor pollen levels low.
But there’s only so much that can be done to avoid allergens this time of year, he said, and if people need help, they can try over-the-counter medication or visit a specialist for prescription options.
“Of course, we cannot live in a bubble,” he said. “We can reduce exposure.”