Spring Allergies and the Pollen Vortex

Patient Expert

Stock up on tissues and antihistamines If you thought the polar vortex was bad, prepare for the pollen vortex. The 50 million Americans who live with seasonal allergies may be in for a very intense spring pollen season.

We are just coming out of a winter that seemed to never end. The mid-Atlantic region of North America was held captive by a vice grip of cold with no relief for months. We have all spent much too long being housebound, miserable and holding off on taking summer clothes out of storage. And we weren't the only ones waiting. Trees that typically flower in early spring, such as elm, poplar and maples, have not started to show off their summer clothes by producing pollen. In fact, monitoring stations that normally see pollen activities start in early March, have seen pollen counts at far below average levels. So far, this is excellent news for those of us who normally spend this time of year with itchy eyes, runny noses and endless sneezing fits.

Meet the Pollen Vortex

But it's just a matter of time. As soon as we have 5 to 7 days of sunshine and temperatures in the mid-40s, the ground will thaw and the trees will start producing pollen. In normal years, pollen production is a sustained activity over several months, early producers hitting their peak in March and ending in April, when others, such as oak, willow and cottonwood, take over. This year, due to the delay caused by the long winter, they will all flower at the same time. Also joining in on the fun will be grasses and possibly mold spores. This is the pollen vortex.

Although this year's delay and subsequent potential pollen bonanza is unusual, it may be part of long-term weather fluctuations that can have an impact on people living with allergies. Climate change has caused a rise in temperatures. Warmer temperatures lead to more pollen production. In many areas of the world allergy season now starts earlier and lasts longer. For instance, in some parts of North America, ragweed season has increased by 27 days in the last 20 years!

Before you consider moving to Antarctica, it's important to know that there is a potential alternative to the pollen vortex scenario. The extended deep freeze that much of North America experienced this winter may also have caused so much damage to plant life that there won't be much pollen at all. Which will it be? Only time will tell.

How You Can Manage Spring Allergies

Avoiding triggers is key to managing all allergies. If you have Spring allergies, avoiding pollen is your first step to not being miserable. Be aware of pollen counts through following local newscasts, looking up your area on Pollen.com or the National Allergy Bureau. Pollen counts tend to be highest in the morning, especially on dry, windy days. If you can, stay inside, close the windows and turn on the AC. Don't give in to the temptation of drying your clothes outside in the sunshine. Pollen can adhere to the clothes, making your problem worse.

Staying in your home is good advice, but when spring finally arrives after a long winter, no one wants to stay inside more than necessary. Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine can help reduce symptoms or, if taken before you leave the house, potentially prevent your symptoms from occurring. If you have been outside on a high pollen day, change your clothes when you come home or take a shower to wash off the pollen.

In addition to antihistamines, there are a number of natural ways to fight allergies. Many people swear by the Neti pot. Eating more spicy food may also help by increasing circulation to your sinuses and acting as a national decongestant. Herbal medicines, such as butterbur , may also be effective. It's important to keep in mind that such products are types of medication and therefore may have side effects or interact with other medications you're already taking. If you are considering adding supplements or herbal medicine to your healthcare regimen, please speak to your doctor. You should also speak to your doctor if over-the-counter medication and other coping strategies are not enough to manage your symptoms. You may be a candidate for prescription antihistamines or allergy shots.

How do you manage your spring allergies?

Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She's the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.