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Experts Predict Potentially Worst Spring Allergy Season in 10 Years for 2012

Tim Boyer's picture
Spring Allergy

Some experts are predicting that spring of 2012 has the potential to be the worst allergy season in 10 years. Because of a relatively mild winter nationwide, an early allergy season has developed causing many allergy sufferers to begin taking medications earlier than normal.

According to weather experts, nationally, January this year was almost 6 degrees warmer than normal. The typical overall national temperature for January is 30.8 degrees F. However this year it was 36.3 degrees F causing many plants including weeds to begin blooming ahead of Mother Nature’s normal schedule and thereby give birth to an early allergy season.

According to a national news report interview of Dr. Stanley Fineman, President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), last year pollen counts were in the single digits and usually don’t begin to pick up until after February 20. However, this year pollen counts jumped up right after Ground Hogs’ Day on February 2nd with pollen counts some days reaching as high as 250.

“It has been a significantly temperate winter and when we see that, in the United States, we expect that the spring season is going to be very different than what we usually experience,” says Allergist Janna Tuck, MD, an ACAAI board member. “Pollen season is going to occur early, so we will see that the spring tree season will start early and as a general rule the pollen counts will be higher—so patients who are allergic and have spring problems will probably have more problems [this year].”

Dr. Tuck explains that it’s not so much that the trees will necessarily bloom earlier since blooming is largely controlled by daylight exposure with warming temperatures, but that when the trees do bloom they may release more pollen than normal due to the mild winter conditions—especially when preceded by adequate rainfall.

However, she believes that mold might be more of a significant problem for allergy sufferers due to a combination of the mild winter, changing weather patterns and farmers tilling their fields earlier than normal—all of which bring increased levels of mold across the nation.

“In the spring you see more variability [with mold] because of the rains and the mold spores are carried on the weather patterns. And so when a weather front moves through your area, it carries more mold spores to you. And when the farmers till up the land they release a lot of mold into the air,” she says.

Dr. Tuck points out that weather conditions from the previous fall can affect mold counts and types in the spring. As an example she refers to the heavy rains that caused flooding in the Mississippi that resulted in a lot of vegetation being killed off that has been decomposing.

“We do know that there is a change in the mold content from all of the dead and dying vegetation from last year—we are going to have more problems this year as a consequence of the flood from last year,” says Dr. Tuck.

When asked about who in particular should expect to be affected this spring, she believes that the pollen allergy sufferers will likely be harder hit than mold sufferers who tend to be more variable in their response and therefore are harder to predict. The pollen sufferers can expect to see a rougher allergy season ahead of them if no late winter cold snaps hit their regions and if spring rains bring abundant water to the trees, followed then by the grass and weeds in late spring.

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And it is because of the increased risk of record pollen and mold counts this spring that Dr. Tuck cannot emphasize enough the importance that people who suffer from allergies go to their allergist early this year for assessment and treatment. Allergy sufferers can expect that they will need to begin taking their allergy meds earlier this year.

In addition, people who previously have had only mild allergy symptoms may find themselves with full blown allergy attacks for the first time. Dr. Tuck states that people do not need to needlessly suffer from their allergies. Rather, that they can find out whether their allergy is to pollen or mold by going to an allergist who can perform skin scratch tests for pollens, intradermal injections for molds or dust mites, or draw blood and perform a serum allergen test.

“Our biggest message is to ‘please see an allergist’. It’s the best way to know what you are allergic to, how to treat your symptoms, and how to have the best control of your symptoms,” says Dr. Tuck. “This truly affects your quality of life and productivity…allergies are one of the biggest medial conditions that causes ‘presenteeism’. You don’t have to live with your allergies—we can treat them and make them better.”

Dr. Tuck warns that by not getting control of your allergy symptoms that you are putting yourself at an increased risk of developing respiratory problems like asthma.

When asked how this spring is expected to compare to last spring, Dr. Tuck says “I am going to expect that this spring pollen counts are going to be higher. Last year was fairly moderate; the previous fall was pretty intense. I have an expectation that this spring is going to be one of the more intense in the last decade,” says Dr. Tuck explaining that this is due to a temperate winter, no large cold snaps expected and that we’ve had moderate springs the last several years. But, that this is dependent regionally on how much rain people will see this spring in their areas and that some will be affected by increased pollen counts whereas others might not.

Dr. Tuck also advises patients that monitoring daily or weekly pollen counts is not always a good indicator of what to expect.

Obtaining accurate pollen count information is problematic in that if you are given the wrong information, monitoring your allergy response will not make sense to you and may alter what medications you take, how often, as well as alter your plans for the day. This can cause problems for allergy sufferers who miss out on an outdoor event to avoid pollen exposure; or worse yet, go outside on a day when the actual pollen counts are dangerously high for them.

Last year a study demonstrated that pollen count info from commercial television stations and online sites were often unreliable because they rely on predicted pollen forecasts rather than real-time data from a certified pollen counting station. Furthermore, if a pollen counting station is a significant distance from your home, then the counts may not apply toward what you are actually experiencing.

To locate a certified pollen counting station, you can visit the AAAAI's National Allergy Bureau™ website for a pollen counting station nearest where you live.

Whether this spring proves to be the worst allergy season in 10 years depends on the level of precipitation many regions have with their spring rains and whether a plant-killing cold snap develops. Without enough rain to support spring growth, the early allergy season could fizzle out like a bad firecracker; however, with enough rain, we can expect an explosion of sneezing, runny noses and red eyes.

Image Source: Courtesy of Morgue File

Reference: ACAAI.org