The unseasonably warm winter was tough on many people here locally. Kids who got sleds for Christmas, guys who attached plows to their pickups and even those who simply enjoy a nice winter landscape all took it on the chin.
The unseasonably warm winter was tough on many people. Kids who got sleds for Christmas, guys who attached plows to their pickups and even those who simply enjoy a nice winter landscape all took it on the chin.
As winter turned to spring, another group of people are feeling the effects of our Floridian winter. Even before the first pitch is thrown on baseball’s opening day, the allergy season is in full swing.
“People are starting to come in with symptoms now, when they usually wouldn’t come in until April 1, or April 10 in previous years,” said Dr. Glennon Paul, who specializes in allergy and immunology at Central Illinois Allergy & Respiratory Clinic in Springfield.
“If it doesn’t turn cold, and I don’t think it will (get better), the (allergy) season is going to be twice as long,” Paul said.
David Robson of University of Illinois Extension is an expert on trees and plants, the culprits in all of this discomfort. His prognosis isn’t much rosier.
“It depends on how much the plants — in this case the trees more than anything else — start producing their pollen. Of course, if the flowers are starting to bloom and the catkins start coming out and then we get hit by a frost, well then that’s going to be really great for us. But what we can probably expect is that we’ll be suffering earlier this year,” Robson said.
Catkins are flower clusters that serve as the male in a tree’s reproductive system. They contain millions of pollen grains that are released into wind for the purpose of finding the female flower for pollination.
But the pollen also finds its way into people’s respiratory systems where they cause sneezing and watering eyes, among other symptoms. Trees not known for their flowers — oak, birch, hickory, and chestnut, for example — are the biggest offenders.
“Anything that has a pretty flower, like the magnolias that are blooming right now, we don’t worry about that because generally speaking the prettier the flower, the more likely that it’s pollinated by insects, which means the pollen is heavy and probably won’t blow,” Robson said.
A spring frost could help alleviate much suffering by killing off the wind-pollinated flowers. Although Robson is an allergy sufferer, as a plant lover he can’t wish for such a fate.
“I’m more worried about some of the damage to some of the other plants. Personally I’d rather suffer then see a lot of freezes this time of year. I’m not talking about temperatures down into the 30s. Lower than 28, that’s what I really worry about,” he said.
Evergreens, which produce a pollen-like substance that can irritate allergy sufferers, may also contribute to an extended allergy season. They don’t produce annually, but warm winter temperatures do affect them.
“Generally speaking, if we have a mild winter, evergreens tend to produce more cones the next season. They don’t produce in early spring, so we’re probably looking at May/June for them. But this year we may be looking at April/May,” Robson said.
The summer-like spring temperatures could offer some relief. Typical spring weather — 60-degree temperatures with moisture and light breezes — is much more conducive to the spreading of pollen.
“That’s going to cause a lot more suffering than say if we get another week of 80 degree temperatures, which will cause plants to bloom out really fast. The faster you can get rid of the pollen the better it is for the sufferers,” Robson said.
What you can do
If the allergy season does persist, there are things people can do to avoid exposure to allergens.
Changing clothes and showering after being outdoors for an extended period will eliminate contact with the pollen that attaches to your clothing and body.
Resisting the urge to let a cool night breeze lull you to sleep will also help.
“If you keep the windows closed right from the start, then you’ll decrease your allergic response because you won’t reach that threshold you need in one day to cause the breakthrough of the symptoms. Once you start having symptoms, closing the windows won’t have as much positive effect,” Paul said.
If you need over-the-counter medication, Paul recommends Zyrtec for relief that doesn’t cause drowsiness. Paul says Benadryl is effective, but can cause drowsiness in some people.
Different people respond to allergens at different levels. If this season’s climatic conditions result in higher-than-usual pollen counts, then people who don’t normally experience symptoms could find themselves suffering. Those who are symptomatic from the moment pollen first appears until the final trace is blown away, might be in store for far worse.
“We could have a prolific amount of pollen just because of the weather we’ve had so far,” Paul said.