Hay Fever in the DC area is manifested by tree and grass pollens in the Spring and ragweed pollen in the Fall. More specifically, the tree pollen usually begins to pollinate towards the end of February each year and continue pollinating into May or even early June. Grass pollen usually begins to pollinate in May and the peak of it is usually over by early July, but it still is present into August. Ragweed pollinates usually beginning in mid-August and ends with the first frost which is usually in late October. There are other weeds that cause hay fever in the DC area which are present throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall. The medical name for hay fever is “allergic rhinitis.”
Also read: What Is Hay Fever?
Another important allergen that affects many individuals in the Washington, DC area is mold. People are exposed to mold spores and become sensitized to them, the same way that pollen causes sensitization in allergic patients. Washington, DC was built on a swamp and therefore tends to always have mold in the air. Mold tends to like damp and humid climates such as the DC area, however, some molds can exist and flourish in dry climates, even the desert. Of course, molds are both an outdoor and indoor allergen and is found indoors primarily in basements, kitchens, and bathrooms which tend to be more damp. The symptoms of hay fever may include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose, throat and/or eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, post nasal drip, sinus headaches, and/or fatigue. These symptoms are most bothersome after outdoor activities and many people feel that they are forced to isolate themselves indoors for several weeks when the weather is nice, resulting in a significant negative impact on their quality of life. Many patients with asthma also experience cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and/or breathing difficulty on exposure to pollen. These flare-ups can also cause sleep disturbances, unscheduled emergency visits to health care providers, and loss of work and school days.
Pollen counts are the highest on warm, dry, and windy days and are directly proportional to the “misery index” of the people who have been previously sensitized to the pollen. They also tend to be higher in the mornings and decrease temporarily after it rains. Individuals that are sensitized to pollens have specific antibodies (called IgE antibodies) which interact with the antigen in the pollen, causing histamine and other chemicals to be released. It is these chemicals that cause the symptoms of hay fever. To alleviate hay fever symptoms, a few common sense precautions can help reduce the amount of exposure to pollen. These precautions include closing the windows in homes and automobiles, keeping the sunroof closed in automobiles, minimizing outdoor activities on warm and windy days, and taking a shower after being outdoors. Over the counter antihistamine medications can offer some relief from symptoms in mildly sensitized individuals but are not very helpful in people who have long term severe sensitivities to these pollens. For people who continue to be symptomatic, however, more effective treatment options like prescription medications and/or allergy desensitization (immunotherapy) procedures offer long term relief, greatly improving the quality of life and increasing productivity.
Board certified allergists are physicians who have received advanced training in treating hay fever, asthma, and sinus conditions. Black and Kletz Allergy practice has over five decades of experience in evaluating and treating hay fever in the DC area. Feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment if you are experiencing hay fever or any other allergic or immunologic symptoms.