What Makes for a Bad Allergy Season?

Posted: May 5, 2018, 5:14 pm by askinner

As winter winds down, many of us become intoxicated with the idea of an early spring. Outside, there is newly greened grass, the scent of fresh soil, and the sound of songbirds signaling the awakening of the biological world. At first your senses may be dazzled, but then you notice your body feels less than 100% as symptoms of sneezing, coughing, runny nose and itchy eyes plague you. There are a few factors that lead to an enhanced allergy season, and as we look for an early end to the winter, many of the things that signal winters conclusion may also indicate an intense, emerging allergy season.

Duration and quantity of pollen play a big role in whether or not the allergy season will be deemed particularly bad. The first sign of this would be the combination of an overall mild winter along with an early spring. When this occurs, plants are able to produce allergens for a longer duration. Plants are very responsive to changes in weather, and as temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing in a mild winter, plants seize any opportunity to come to life and will begin the processes necessary to start creating pollen. That being said, after a mild winter and an early end to overnight freezes, already prepped plants begin producing pollen at the first sign of spring.


Often one of the first flowers of the season, the Crocus blooms in late winter / early spring


If allergens are produced for a longer duration, they affect us for an extended period of time, but add in the role of sheer quantity and you have double the trouble. As the transition from winter to spring occurs, in order to create an increased amount of pollen, you need plenty of dismal, rainy weather. Above average rainfall adds fuel to the fire, by helping plants produce allergens at a more rapid rate. Rainfall stimulates the production of pollen, essentially allowing plants to give off pollen more powerfully.

The creation of pollen alone can be enough to trigger allergies, but just because it is being produced, doesn’t mean it is being circulated. There are a few factors that aid in the dispersion of pollen and therefore a worse allergy season. First, as a rainy spring usually means higher levels of humidity, this also means pollen is able to be trapped or carried within the moist air much easier. This creates a mode of transfer which allows pollen to travel and influence people with greater ease. Picture a humid day where the air is heavy with moisture; now picture that air also being loaded with suspended pollen particles.

An early spring oftentimes also means that bugs, or pollinators, will hatch early, or promptly return from their migration. They are in search of food that is conveniently found in plants and as they feast, they spread abundant allergens. Through years of adaptation, plants have evolved to make the transfer of pollen by insects simple. This occurs when insects eat, as they are also unknowingly being burdened with pollen particles that stick to their bodies. Then, when they fly to the next plant in search of more food, they spread that pollen farther and wider, pollinating more and more plants and the cycle continues.


A bee looks for food from a flower, also visible are some small particles of pollen on its back


Finally, another way to spread pollen would be through the wind. They say March is “in like a lion, out like a lamb”, meaning that the month begins windy but ends calm. So, if this childhood rhyme comes to fruition, or even remains windy for the entire month due to shifting atmospheric factors, you could be dealing with a strong increase in pollen circulation, allowing allergens to become more readily airborne on their journey to your nose.


Allergens being circulated by the wind


As we exchange our heavy coats for copious amounts of tissues, we think back to a time where all we wanted was an early end to the winter. However, with a premature start to spring comes the burden of an enhanced allergy season. I guess they say “be careful what you wish for” for a reason!

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