Spring is in the air, and more pollen is, too.
For the 8 percent of U.S. adults estimated to suffer from pollen allergies, spring can bring symptoms that include itchy eyes, runny noses, congestion and sneezing as trees and grass begin to pollinate.
For some people, symptoms are already starting. Dr. Anupama Kewalramani, a pediatric allergist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, said she began seeing patients last week for allergy concerns.
Here’s what to expect as pollen levels rise.
How severe will this year’s allergy season be?
There’s no way to know for sure how intense allergy season will be, particularly because symptoms vary from person to person, Kewalramani said.
“Every year is different,” Kewalramani said. “Every year everyone says it’s bad.”
This year, pollen levels have already reached moderate levels in the Baltimore area. It’s fairly typical for spring allergy season to begin in March; some trees begin because pollinating in February.
“I think last year was a little bit weird because the spring season started a little bit late,” Kewalramani said.
The earlier start to allergy season this year means it could last longer.
It’s also possible that some allergy-prone people could experience more intense symptoms if pollination proliferates. The wet weather the Baltimore area had in the fall and winter could promote tree growth and pollination — though that connection hasn’t entirely been proved.
“You worry that that’s going to help them pollinate more, even though it’s not entirely clear,” Kewalramani said.
What types of pollen cause allergic reactions?
Tree and grass pollen are the main spring allergy culprits. Trees flower in the early spring, with grass following later in the season. Pollen from oak trees, hickory trees and Bermuda grass are among the most severe allergens in the Baltimore region.
What are the most common allergy symptoms?
Many people with pollen allergies develop a runny nose, sneezing, congestion and red watery eyes. Itchy skin and itching on the roof of the mouth, inside the ears and in the nose are also common.
When does spring allergy season peak?
Though different species of trees and grass pollinate at different times, April and May are usually the most intense months for spring allergies.
Can people develop allergic reactions to pollen if they have not had allergy symptoms in the past?
Yes. People who have moved recently are particularly susceptible to developing new allergy symptoms if they had not previously been exposed to certain types of pollen. Sometimes those symptoms can take years to show, Kewalramani said.
“The immune system, it kind of sees it as it’s sort of an invader,” she said.
What can people do to prevent allergy symptoms?
Some patients with severe allergy symptoms can mitigate their symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications before allergy season sets in.
Kewalramani also suggested avoiding going outside in the early mornings, when pollen counts are highest. She said changing clothes and showering after being outdoors can help alleviate symptoms, too.
What are the best remedies?
Over the counter antihistamines — including steroids, sinus rinses and nasal sprays — work well for most patients. Some patients receive allergy shots, too, so if over-the-counter remedies are ineffective, Kewalramani suggests seeing an allergist for more intense treatment.