Across the country, spring flowers have sprung, and trees are leafing out weeks early, giving seasonal allergies an early start this year. Unseasonably warm temperatures have also led to earlier blooming in the Northeastern U.S., which has jumpstarted allergy season.
According to Dr. Melissa Schwartz, founder of the Montgomery County ENT Institute, “Due to the mild winter in Philadelphia and the Northeast corridor, we can expect an early spring allergy season this year. Trees are already budding and pollen counts are at low to moderate levels.
If we have a rainy spring, grass pollen will appear early as well. And March is typically very windy which will increase symptoms, especially for those spending time outdoors.”
Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) publishes its Allergy Capitals Report and its latest ranking includes Northeastern cities such as Scranton/ Allentown (Pennsylvania), Hartford/ New Haven (Connecticut), and Buffalo/ Albany (New York) among the most challenging cities for spring allergies.
What are the most common plant allergens in the Northeast?
Dr. Schwartz says, “In Philadelphia, the most common allergens are pollen from birch, sycamore, elm, maple, and oak trees. Birch pollen appears first, followed by the others. These trees release pollen from March through May in a typical year. Grass pollen allergies begin in April and will vary in severity based on rain levels, and can possibly last into July.”
Dr. Schwartz advises patients to pay attention to the onset of their symptoms – especially if they emerge following a prolonged period of time spent outdoors, particularly on windy days. Symptoms will typically consist of itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, rhinorrhea (runny nose), nasal congestion, and postnasal drip which can cause a sore throat, and sinus pressure/ headache.
Do patients experience different types of symptoms from different allergens?
“Not usually, but some patients are more prone to nasal symptoms and others tend to develop throat or eye symptoms. Patients with allergy-induced asthma will experience more wheezing or coughing during their prime allergy season,” said Dr. Schwartz.
What other noteworthy trends or observations have you seen from allergy sufferers this year?
“This year, we’ve noticed that many of our patients are experiencing persistent congestion or postnasal drip, as well as sinus headaches – which have led them to falsely believe that they may have an upper respiratory infection (URI) or sinus infection. This makes our physical examination even more important than in prior years, as we don’t want patients misdiagnosed and treated with unnecessary antibiotics,” added Dr. Schwartz.
For those who live in the Northeast, what are some ways to cope with spring allergies?
Dr. Schwartz offers these tips and more from the Montgomery County ENT Institute blog:
- When visible green pollen dust shows up on your car windshield or hood, it’s best to drive with your windows up to minimize exposure.
- At home, keep your windows shut and use your air conditioning and/or a HEPA purifier to filter allergens.
- It’s important to monitor the onset of your symptoms and minimize exposure to the offending allergens – for instance, you may be allergic to grass pollen if:
- You do yardwork or cut your own lawn and feel worse immediately after or the next day.
- You notice symptoms the day after watching your child’s soccer or baseball games.
- Children with allergies may get itchy after playing in the grass, possibly with rashes or eczema developing.
- To remove pollen you pick up outside, take a shower immediately after being outdoors and change your clothes.
- Check the weather and learn when conditions such as rain or wind increase pollen levels in your area, so you can be prepared.
- In general, avoid peak pollen times, usually around 5-10 am and at dusk. Pollen is also higher on warm, breezy days.
- Use an over-the-counter saline nasal spray or rinse to clear pollen from your nasal passages and throat area.
- If you have been diagnosed with seasonal allergies in the past, consider starting your meds right away to avoid symptoms worsening after several days of exposure.
Consider using ClearUP, a non-invasive bioelectronic sinus device that treats nasal congestion and sinus pain/pressure associated with seasonal allergies. ClearUP is 100% drug-free and provides rapid, lasting relief, allowing patients to breathe more easily.
If your symptoms worsen, it’s best to speak with your doctor about allergy relief options and a treatment plan that’s right for you.