Allergy doc says 2018 pollen season could be brutal in Northern Utah

Thursday , April 19, 2018 - 5:15 AM

Hang onto your hankies, folks.

Allergy season could get particularly brutal this year.

Right now, the tree pollen counts are pretty much off the charts in Northern Utah, according to Dr. Joseph Anderson of Intermountain Allergy and Asthma in South Ogden. What’s more, if we get some wet weather this month and next — followed by a warm, dry June — the year’s grass pollen counts could be equally problematic for those with allergies.

“We’re in the tree season now, as you well know,” Anderson said. “And this year’s allergy season started incredibly early.”

RELATED: Google trends show climate change increasing seasonal allergies

A “pitifully warm winter” made for a “bizarre” start to the airborne plant pollen season in 2018, Anderson says. Indeed, the first pollen counts in Northern Utah were collected Feb. 13 — much earlier than the usual March start date for elm trees (the first of the season to pollinate).

“It’s been tricky this spring, with the pollen counts being so early,” he said. “And there have been some pretty high tree counts already.”

The April 18 pollen count was down due to the recent dusting of snow, according to Anderson. Pollen from the ash tree was in the “medium” range, while all others rated “low.”

However, the day before, April 17, the pollen counts for cottonwood, cedar and oak trees spiked into the “very high” range, while willow, elm, sycamore, ash and birch were rated “high.” Only grass was in the “medium” range.

In general, Anderson says trees pollinate from March through May; grasses pollinate May through July, and weeds pollinate between August and October.

“If you’re allergic to more than one kind of pollen, it can make for a long year,” he said.

RELATED: Allergies hit Utahns early this year amid heat trend

For some people with plant allergies, their only relief comes in the winter. Of course, then they have to worry about pet allergies.

Plants pollinate in two ways, Anderson says. For those with attractive flowers, the pollen is carried among plants by bees and other insects. But for many other trees, grasses and weeds, pollen is spread by wind. It’s this second category that leads to allergies for many people.

Anderson said people sometimes look at trees in bloom and think that’s their problem.

“But plants that cause an allergy are wind-pollinating plants, and those are usually shade trees,” he said. “If there’s a pretty flower on it — like a fruit tree — that’s bee-pollinated, and it doesn’t cause allergies.”

Anderson also said he often sees patients who think they’re allergic to cottonwood trees because they exhibit symptoms when cotton is floating around the neighborhood.

“People come into my office when the cottonwood trees are going to seed, and they think they’re allergic,” Anderson said. “But it’s usually a grass allergy, since the pollination on cottonwoods took place long before the cotton flies.”

Some scientists have reported that climate change is affecting pollen counts and making allergies worse. Anderson says that would make sense.

“If the temperatures warm up, and you have warmer, longer growing seasons?” he asked. “Yeah, theoretically you can have more pollen in the air if it’s a longer growing season.”

Anderson said allergies tend to get worse for people as they get older. He offers three tips for coping with the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, nose and throat:

1. The early bird avoids the pollen.

As temperatures rise, plants tend to pollinate more heavily. So if you have allergies and want to plan an outdoor activity, it’s best to do it in the morning, when pollen counts are lower than in the afternoon.

2. Stay indoors when pollen counts spike.

“A regular furnace filter will filter out pollen just fine, so if you keep your doors and windows closed and use your air conditioner during allergy season, you’ll be fine,” he said. “Of course, if you have a swamp cooler, you’re screwed.”

3. Arm yourself — with knowledge.

If you suspect you have allergies, Anderson recommends you see a specialist to determine specifically what you’re allergic to.

“If you know what you’re allergic to, you can anticipate when you need to keep your windows shut and when to take your allergy medicines,” he said.

Anderson said an allergy can often be mistaken for a cold. Allergies can also come on fairly quickly — after just an hour or two outside — and it can take a couple of weeks for the symptoms to disappear, long after the offending pollen is gone.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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