Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ah-choo! Tree-mendous allergy season coming?

Cold has chilled it, but annual tree love-fest likely soon will torment allergy sufferers.

Spring-deprivation has had at least one benevolent side effect: It has deferred the annual tree-pollen season and its related irritations to the allergic.

No one has quite figured out how to predict how severe a given season will be, but like spring, summer, fall, and winter, we know that it's coming even if we don't know that it will bring.

Like the winter of 2014-15, itself, this one has been a late-starter, and we have been treated to a prolonged bud season with the trees swollen with the subtle colors of the incipient spring.

But Dr. John Krouse, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at Temple University, believes that once the weather warms up, it will heat up the pollen season in a hurry.

"That's the general assumption," he said Friday morning. Even with the chill, he said, "We're starting to see more patients."

Just to recap, the weather is a major factor in just when the season kicks in.

Every year about this time, the region's oaks, birches, and other trees disperse their microscopic pollen grains to sow the seeds for the next generation.

Pollen loves to commute on light winds on warm days, and those days are inevitable – regardless of the mentions of the outside chance of snow in the Saturday forecasts.

However, pollen has a tremendous air of unpredictability, and weather explains only about 50 of the day-to-day variance in volume, according to Krouse.

As for those reports that rising temperatures are increasing that volume, Krouse said that will be hard to sort out given that allergies generally are increasing for a variety of other reasons.

First, for reasons no one quite understands, some years the trees exert a greater reproductive "effort" than in others. So the total available pollen varies from year to year.

More people evidently are reacting to various pollens these days, but that doesn't mean more allergens are out there.

Krouse said data support the “hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that the increase in disease immunizations has made people more susceptible to previously harmless allergens.

What's a sufferer to do? The age-old advice is to try to avoid pollen as much as humanly possible.

Krouse also recommends getting shots, even if they don't address every tree species. The Europeans have shown, he said, that to work the shots don't have to address every possibility.

In the meantime, the longer-range forecasts aren't showing much in the way of a major warm-up.