Allergies in the Spring Update

Well, it is almost Spring again. If you are one of those individuals with Spring allergies, you know that it is time for those miserable allergy symptoms to reappear unless you do something about it. The primary cause of Spring allergies is the tree pollen, although secondary allergens often include molds. The classic symptoms of Spring allergies may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, sinus headaches, fatigue, itchy eyes, watery eyes, and/or redness of the eyes. In addition, some individuals, especially those with asthma, may also develop or experience worsening of chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and/or shortness of breath.

The pollination of trees in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area usually begins in March and generally lasts until early May. It is interesting to note however that the pollination of trees throughout the country has been beginning earlier and earlier as time goes on, particularly in the last 20 years. Tree pollen is now found in the Washington, DC area in early February and occasionally in January when there are unusually warm days. As a result, sensitive individuals are finding themselves bothered by tree pollen much earlier in the year than in the past. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide are being documented every year causing many scientific researchers to believe that climate change is contributing to this trend.  Carbon dioxide is the primary gas needed for the growth and development of trees along with nutrients, water, and sunlight. Changes in the climate may impact the pollen seasons of trees, grasses, and weeds by both increasing the amount of pollen produced as well as by extending the duration of the pollen season.

Tree pollination is for all intents and purposes the reproductive season for the trees. Tree pollen grains are released into the atmosphere in order to fertilize the ovules of other trees.  Tree pollen is produced and dispersed by the wind throughout the day, but their counts are highest in the morning hours. Birch, oak, cedar, elm, ash, cottonwood, hickory, and maple are the predominant tree pollens in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

A common fallacy is that if someone has a particular tree (i.e., oak) or many of those specific trees (i.e., oak) in their yard, they are more likely to have allergy problems from those trees if they are allergic to them. This in fact is not true since pollen is disbursed all over the region and it is not unheard of for the pollen to travel over 200 miles. For this reason, people can suffer from tree pollen allergy (i.e., oak) even if they live fairly far away from that nearest tree (i.e., oak).

Another misconception people have is that they are allergic to flowers that bloom in the Spring. These individuals assume that because they are experiencing allergy symptoms in the Spring when the flowers are blooming that they are allergic to the flowers. In reality, the flowers happen to be blooming the same time that the trees are pollinating and the allergy sufferers equate their worsening allergy symptoms with the flowers that they see. It is the tree pollen that is causing their hay fever (i.e., allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis) symptoms and not the flowers. As a matter of fact, another name for hay fever is “rose fever.” It is called rose fever because roses bloom in the Spring, at the same time tree pollen levels are high. It is interesting that the names hay fever and rose fever are also inaccurate in that there is no allergy to hay or roses and there is also no fever associated with the condition.

The diagnosis of Spring allergies begins with taking a comprehensive history and performing a complete physical examination.  Allergy testing by either skin testing or blood testing is performed in order to identify the offending allergen.  Once the allergen is identified, preventive measures are recommended in order to reduce the exposure to that allergen.

Some measures to diminish exposure to pollen which helps lessen symptoms may include the following:

  • Track the the local pollen counts on our homepage by clicking Today’s Pollen Count and avoid outside activities on days with high pollen counts.
  • Avoid activities in the early morning since the pollen counts are at their highest early in the mornings.
  • Plan to go outdoors after it rains as the pollen count is lower after a rain.
  • Shower before going to bed in order to wash the pollen off.
  • Close your windows in your house and automobiles, as well as run your air conditioning in order to help prevent pollen exposure.
  • Leave your shoes outside so you do not bring the pollen into the home.
  • Change one’s clothes and wash them after being outside.
  • Wash your pet before the animal comes inside.

The treatment of Spring allergies usually includes prevention of the offending allergen(s), therapy with medications, and/or allergy immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots, allergy injections, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization). There are a variety of medications that may be used in order to treat Spring allergies. Oral antihistamines, oral decongestants, oral leukotriene antagonists, nasal corticosteroids, nasal antihistamines, nasal anticholinergics, ocular antihistamines, ocular mast cell stabilizers, inhaled bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, and inhaled anticholinergics are some of the ammunitions used to prevent and treat allergy and asthma symptoms that may occur in the Spring and other times as well. Allergy immunotherapy, (more commonly referred to as allergy shots), are very effective. They work in approximately 80-85% of the patients who take allergy shots. They take about 4-6 months however to work and the average person is on them for about 3-5 years.

If you are suffering from a prolonged “cold” and/or are not sure if your symptoms may be due to allergies and you would like to be seen by one of our board certified allergists at one of Black & Kletz Allergy’s 3 convenient locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), or Manassas, VA, please call us to make an appointment. Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will get back to you within 24 hours by the next business day. We offer parking at each office location and we are Metro accessible at our Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations. We also offer a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. Black & Kletz Allergy provides a welcoming and thoughtful environment for you to get the state-of-the-art allergy, asthma, and immunology treatment that we have been providing the community for more than 5 decades.