Most people usually welcome spring, with its pleasant temperatures, blooming florals, and sunny skies. But for those with allergies, it can cause a runny, itchy nose, irritated eyes, and constant sneezing.
The main aggravating factor behind these seasonal allergies is pollen. What may be surprising is the source.
Many people assume the variety of blooming flowers causes springtime pollen outbreaks, but tree pollen is actually the irritant affecting people.
“This is tree season, so it has nothing to do with flowers,” said Dr. Ronald G. Beebe, a board-certified allergist and immunologist at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.
“There are so many trees in North Georgia that pollinate and that’s why we have such a hard pollen season,” he added.
Additionally, the yellow pollen common to the area that coats cars and other surfaces is rarely the form to which people are allergic.
“That’s pine pollen. Almost no one is allergic to pine pollen, so even though you see it and you’re miserable, you’re miserable from the ones you can’t see, which (are) oak, hickory and pecan,” said Beebe.
“Those are the absolute worst ones in North Georgia.”
Tree pollen can travel for hundreds of miles so even if these trees are not nearby, wind can spread their pollen widely and quickly, making windy days contributing factors to higher pollen counts.
Even though it’s too early to specifically determine, Beebe said he expects this year’s pollen season to be somewhat severe, attributing that to the longer, colder winter.
“Pollen seasons in Georgia are very long, traditionally. The cold weather kind of delays the pollen from getting going, but it’s like it’s waiting to take its vengeance. So when it does get going and we get several warm days in a row, I think it’s going to be really severe and hard on patients,” he said.
Predicting a good or bad pollen season is a complicated process and depends on many different factors, including the hours of daylight, amount of sunshine, wind and temperatures.
Donell Ducote, nurse practitioner at Allergy and Asthma Clinic of Northeast Georgia in Gainesville, also said she anticipates a strong pollen season.
“We do our own pollen counts, and we saw pollen start very early even though it was such a cold winter.
“It’s been at high levels each time it warms up for a few days and then, of course, we get a freeze or rain and the counts drop,” Ducote said.
“This has made it very difficult for a lot of people because their bodies can’t seem to adjust — it’s an up-and-down thing.
“I think once it warms up for a week or so, the trees are just going to burst forth and the pollen count is going to zoom up into the thousands.
“It’s hard to say when that will be, but people are definitely feeling it and have the whole gamut of symptoms,” she added.
While avoiding pollen completely is impossible, people can take steps to lessen their exposure.
Pollen tends to be worse in early morning, so delaying outdoor activities until later in the day can be helpful.
Additionally, Beebe recommends keeping both household and car windows closed, being sure to take a shower and wash hair.
If you’ve been outside all day, wash clothes that have been exposed, avoid hanging clothes outside to dry and monitor pets venturing in and out of doors.
“Pets can be terrible pollen carriers,” he said. “You’ll want to brush or bathe them to get the pollen off of them.”
Most mild symptoms of pollen allergies, such as sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose, can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra, Beebe said.
However, if you’re coughing or wheezing outdoors or if “it’s beyond minimal symptoms that are not being controlled with medication, you should see an allergist and be tested to determine what you’re allergic to, as allergies can lead to chronic infections like recurrent sinus infections or potentially asthma,” he added.