The local forecast is nice and quiet. Not just for today, but for the next couple of days. So I thought today would be a good time to do my annual blog about pollen.
This year has been interesting as it has been a very cold Winter as well as a chilly start to the Spring. Because of this folks have been varying as to how much they have been affected. For instance my allergies still haven’t been too bad up to this point. It has started to increase over the last week, but it still hasn’t been full blown. By about this time last year the pollen was off the charts. I did ask how people were doing on my facebook page, and the response was interesting. Some people have claimed that this year has been much worse than others. Many more have said that this year hasn’t been too bad. I think it boils down to this: Due to the cooler weather the pollen types have been more staggered. Some of the trees have been pollinating for weeks. So if you allergic to specific trees, then it may have hit you a little harder so far. However, the grass and some other trees like maple have had a slower start. While some specific tree pollens have been high, the overall pollen hasn’t been too high yet. A lot of the grass will probably start to seed by next if it hasn’t already. Then the grass pollen will increase. Also we just had a good amount of rain between Monday and Tuesday. So the trees are really ramping up this week. Ragweed is more of a Fall allergen. So I don’t expect that to contribute. Mold has also been high as we have had a lot of cold weather and moisture between January and mid-March. Hopefully that decreases with the upcoming drier weather.
As some of you may already know, I am one of the millions of Americans that are affected by seasonal allergies every year.. The impacts for people can range from a few sniffles up to an extreme case where a person has to go to the hospital. Basically as the length of day increases and the temperatures increase, the trees release their pollen so that they can get the seeds to germinate and sprout. As the soil temperatures get warmer the vegetation becomes more active. Eventually in the Spring, the grass pollen and plants also starts to contribute.
Along with pollen from vegetation, people can be allergic to all kinds of things. Pets, dust, certain foods, and even some insects are examples. (Ewww) The problem is that during this time of year many different allergens are coming at you from all directions. For example you could have a mild allergy to mold that lasts through the year, and then that might combine with a seasonal allergy to oak pollen. There are a lot of ways to try to combat those allergies. Here are some tips:
1. Clean often! Vacuum your home a couple of times a week. Sweeping will likely not help as the pollen grains are so tiny. You should also dust often to get that pollen and dust off of the surfaces. You can also vacuum out your air vents if you want to try to go the extra mile. But the payoff may not last long as more pollen will re-enter the air ducts quickly. Don’t forget to clean or change the filter in your vacuum cleaner.
2. Keep your windows closed. This goes for your home and your car. Homes are not air tight, and pollen also drifts in as you open your doors. So keep the house closed up as much as possible. Window screens may help block a little of the larger pollen, but overall it is small enough to fit right through the mesh.
3. You should run your air conditioner or even just your fan on your A.C. Your unit should have a filter on it that will help take out some of the pollen. You should change the filter a couple of times a month if you have bad allergies. Changing it about once a month is normal. There are special filters that block even small particles. They are the denser ones that are typically more expensive, but I’ve had A.C. repairmen tell me that those are not good for some units as it reduces the flow. If you want to try it, then call up and ask a specialist. You should also get your cabin air filter for your vehicle changed if you haven’t for a while. Warning… it can get a little pricey, and not all vehicles have cabin filters.
4. There are many small/medium plug-in air filter systems for your home. They are designed to help clear the air in one or two rooms. Be careful though. Some are very expensive, and some do not work that well at all. Some have filters that you can re-use and clean, but there are others that you have to buy. So do your homework. I’ve had 3 different filters in the past and all have been disappointments, but there are other folks that swear by them.
5. Wash your bedding often. If you don’t want to keep doing laundry during the week, you can use or buy another set. Then just swap it out until you have time to wash again. The pillow cases are the most important. So maybe just swap those out. Wash the items in hot water to kill dust mites if you can. Careful! Some delicate fabrics can’t be washed in hot water.
6. There are many over the counter medications to help with allergies. Products with antihistamines will help. There are nasal sprays which can help to either clear sinuses and/or medicate the nasal area. There are eye drops that help with itchy red eyes. I have one with an antihistamine in it that really helps, but it does sting a little at first. Finally, there are many pills that you can also buy. Read the instructions carefully. There are some that can make you very drowsy. Many medications are not to be used for young children. If you do have young ones that are really suffering, then call your pediatrician. You can also go so far as to get tested for allergies. I got tested, and found that I was allergic to several things. Just know though that the process involves numerous tiny shots. And I mean numerous. The doctor has several prescriptions that can help. It’s also possible to get special allergy shots for the really bad sufferers. There are new medications coming out all the time. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if they are right for you.
7. Even if you are not allergic to your pets, their fur can still collect pollen from trees, dust, etc. So it’s good to groom your pets. Believe it or not, house pets can also suffer from allergies. So monitor them if they become overly itchy this time of year.
8. There are food allergies (i.e. nuts/shellfish), however there are also some foods that can act as mild allergens that can cross-react with the pollen. Bananas and some melons, for instance, can impact your allergies. Keep in mind that even if you are fine during the year, it can be a small addition to the seasonal allergens this time of year. Here’s a great link to a site that lists some of the foods and allergies: Food List
9. Dry clothes indoors. It may help with energy consumption, but drying clothes on a clothesline will be a pollen magnet during the next few weeks.
10. You may have cleaned your floors and carpets, but you’ll continue to track in pollen unless you clean off your doorsteps, patios, and walkways. I recommend a hose as a broom will stir up the dust/pollen.
11. Some folks have recommended eating local honey during the year. They say that it helps the body build up an immunity to pollen. I did try it last year, and it didn’t seem to work. Maybe it finally kicked in this year. (I doubt it)> There are some who swear by it. It might be a little late this year, but it’s a thought for next year.
Pollen is a complicated thing to forecast. It is based on the temperatures, pressure, humidity, rainfall, soil temperatures, etc. Also pollen can blow in from other source regions. Rain can wash out pollen, but only if it lasts for a long period of time. I’ve actually noticed that trees and plants love to get water. So they will sometimes launch heavy pollen several hours after a rain shower. It’s even tougher in this area as there are no proxy data. To my knowledge there is no group or department that takes the local pollen count. Some local health departments used to take a reading, but they stopped due to budget cuts and/or other reasons. The closest readings are in Richmond and Raleigh. So I use myself and others as a barometer on many days. Also the proximity to water can make a difference. (There are no trees over the ocean). The forecast today is a 9 out of 10. Good luck with the allergies this season, and feel free to comment with your own tips below.
Meteorologist: Jeremy Wheeler