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Warmer Weather Causes Earlier Allergy Season

With heavy snowfall and frigid winters replaced by mild temperatures this year, many allergy sufferers have had no break from traditionally seasonal allergies. The mild winter paired with a seemingly early spring has forced sufferers to keep tissues on hand year-round; an irritating problem that may worsen in the upcoming weeks.

A mild winter can cause trees to pollinate earlier and could bring an early start to the allergy season. Pollen, one of the most common allergens, may be especially problematic this year as warm temperatures can allow plants to pollinate sooner.

“The ground never froze this winter so there will be an increase in molds. Also anticipate trees and bushes to flower sooner causing allergy symptoms to appear much earlier than before,” said Kathy Maloney, Director of Health Services.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), though 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies, approximately 40 million of these cases have indoor/outdoor allergies as their primary allergy.

“The most common indoor/outdoor allergy triggers are: tree, grass and weed pollen; mold spores; dust mite and cockroach allergen; and, cat, dog and rodent dander,” the AAFA cites.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), trees such as birch, cedar, cottonwood and pine are big allergy triggers and generally pollinate in the spring.

With early March bringing temperatures as high as the 70s to parts of the U.S., it’s possible that these trees will pollinate weeks sooner, lengthening this year’s allergy season.

Pollen counts for these allergens are already spiking across the U.S., with nearly half of the country facing moderate to high pollen levels. However, does this mean it will be a particularly bad year for allergy sufferers?

“According to a report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America at the National Wildlife Federation, earlier springs could potentially cause more pollen exposure for many people, prolonging the problem,” Mike Tringale, Vice President of External Affairs at the AAFA said.

“In addition, increases of CO2 pollution in certain cities may promote more active pollen production by plants making pollen concentrations even higher.”

But the early spring allergies aren’t necessarily an indicator that summer and fall will be worse than usual.

“Pollination from season to season has always been an overlapping condition for most of the U.S., as pollination doesn’t have a clear-cut start or end date: spring blends into summer, which blends in to fall, etc.,” Tringale said.

“However, overall, pollen concentrations in the U.S. have increased year-to-year during the last decade, with no expectation for a decline this year.”

But those allergic to seasonal allergens, such as grass and weeds, have a bit more time before symptoms kick into high gear. Grass usually releases its pollen in the late summer months and weed-induced allergies often strike in the fall.

Despite the potentially early onset of any allergy, there are ways to reduce symptoms. The AAAAI recommends limiting outdoor activities on days with high pollen counts, keeping windows shut in the home and car to reduce pollen exposure and to shower after coming indoors, as pollen in hair and on skin could irritate allergy sufferers long after they’ve come inside. “Allergy sufferers should not wait for the warm weather and the pollen to arrive,” he said. “Acting early–seeing an allergist and taking medications before the pollen count increases dramatically–may result in minimal suffering for those afflicted with pollen allergies,” said Dr. Leonard Bielory, director of the Asthma and Allergy Research Center at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

Medications vary, from those sold over-the-counter to prescription medications and alternative medicine approaches, such as herbal nasal sprays. “Avoid opening windows at home and in the car to reduce discomfort,” Dr. Bielory noted. “Using dehumidifiers and air conditioning will keep the pollen and mold levels at a minimal, which helps allergy sufferers breathe easier.”

Maloney said, “If you take OTC (over the counter) medications, start taking them as soon as the trees start flowering and the grass ‘wakes up.’ Consider getting air purifiers in rooms, changing vent filters and doing a “spring clean up” of house/ rooms to remove dust and pollens that may come through screen windows.” It can be hard to differentiate between a cold and season allergies. It’s learning how to tell the difference between the two.

According to, in general, allergies tend to start more with watery eyes, irritated eyes, a little bit of an itching sensation or a clogging in the ear, and some nasal congestion, or maybe even a sore or scratchy throat, but not severe.

Colds tend to come on a little bit more severely, more of a sore throat, more of a fatigue, more of a thicker and irritating mucus that people can have, and more of an earache.

According to David Khan, M.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, there are several medications that are available overthe- counter. The most common of these are the antihistamines. Antihistamines work for the symptoms of runny nose, sneezing and itching and are not as effective for nasal congestion.

Another common medication for allergies is decongestants. Decongestants can be either in a pill form or as a nasal spray.

Topical nasal decongestant sprays also are the most effective thing for stuffy noses. Depending on if you have a cold or allergies determines what medicine you should be using.

Certainly if you have a higher fever, if you have more of a headache, if you have a lot of thicker or yellow or green mucus, then those are generally more signs of an infection which may be a virus or even bacteria, and you might need more treatment than you think.

So if you’re having more of the symptoms of a cold rather than allergy symptoms or feeling fatigued, then that would be the time to see your doctor.