An early spring could drag out pollen season

March 24, 2019
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HUNTINGTON — Pollen is an unavoidable fact of life for anyone who plans on taking one breath or more outside this spring — a primal annoyance plaguing life since plant reproduction and human respiration first crossed paths.

Like powdery clockwork, pollen season has already arrived with a mild winter officially melting into a balmy spring. While last year’s prolonged winter pushed the local pollen rush back into April, sparking a gush of irritants as trees tried to make up for lost time, this year’s warmer season doesn’t mean less pollen, explained Dr. Meagan Shepherd, allergist/immunologist at Marshall Health’s Department of Pediatrics.

If anything, an early spring often makes the pollen season seem longer with trees budding earlier this year.

“Whenever you have a mild winter, the trees seem to pollinate sooner so the season seems longer,” Shepherd said. “We’ve already seen trees start to bud for a while now, so the season seems to be upon us.”

In West Virginia, trees tend to be the main culprit for the first rounds of pollen as they begin budding around mid-March. Grasses spark another wave of pollen, usually around late spring into early summer.

Just like weather is different in different areas of the country, pollen likewise arrives much earlier and typically heavier in the south. Because of this, Shepherd warned those traveling south for spring break that those regions are much further along in their pollen season than in West Virginia.

Shepherd and other allergists get their reports from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, which has its own certified tracking stations regionally.

The closest active station is in Louisville, Kentucky, but even that is close enough to accurately gauge pollen in the area, Shepherd said. It currently reports moderate pollen — likely increasing with warmer weather over the next few weeks. Pollen can travel thousands of miles, and the Louisville area is squarely upwind, meaning whatever is recorded there will blow here.

Many private weather services also offer their own projections. Peak pollen season is likely to hit the Ohio River Valley and Mid-Atlantic region around late April, according to AccuWeather forecasts released Thursday.

Although most allergy cases are manageable through any number of treatment methods, Shepherd advised considering seeking medical advice if symptoms are strong enough to interfere with sleep or daily life.

Seasonal allergies can sometimes be confused with a common cold, but itching and longevity, Shepherd explained, are tell-tale signs of allergies as opposed to another illness. Allergies rarely lead to other illnesses, though severe congestion may set the table for a sinus infection.

Shepherd adv ises that patients on seasonal allergy medications begin taking them as early as Valentine’s Day. Nasal rinses and showering can also remove allergens from the body, as can keeping windows and doors closed when inside.

Shepherd explained what anyone who has tried to sleep through allergy symptoms regretfully knows — it always feels worse at night. Worsening symptoms at bedtime are caused by a human’s chronobiology. The body’s natural daily cycle of steroid production, which combats inflammation, is at its lowest generally around 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.