Unpredictable winter leads to longer allergy season, more pollen

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comApril 7, 2014 

20080429 Sneeze allergy

MCADAM — MCT

Cold winter weather not only made this spring's allergy season unpredictable, it might also be making it longer and more severe, some doctors in Beaufort County say.

Winter's chilly end meant more plants blooming and trees pollinating at once in March, according to Dr. Kenneth Brown, a specialist at Beaufort ENT & Allergy.

"It followed a similar pattern two or three years ago -- a relatively cold winter and more gradual pollen production," he said. "There's been more appointments than normal, but it has not been a dramatic shift."

High pollen counts have been observed in the area since mid-March, according to statistics from Savannah Allergy Associates, the closest pollen-reporting agency. The pollen count peaked Friday, reaching 3,842 grams per cubic meter of air -- 1,000 grams per cubic meter is considered high.

Jean Holstein, a nurse at Savannah Allergy Associates, said January's unpredictable weather might have caused a longer-than-normal allergy season. A few warm days in January caused trees to pollinate earlier this year, then lie dormant when temperatures dropped again.

Holstein said pollen counts recorded Jan. 14, 2013, were only 19 grams per cubic meter. This past Jan. 14, the pollen count reached 416, she said.

"It was a very crazy season," she said. "It would get cold, then go back up. We haven't had clear-cut seasons. Some trees pollinated early."

Although the season was extended by the unpredictable weather, Holstein said, it didn't cause much of an increase in appointments at Savannah Allergy, with about the same number of patient visits as last year.

Weekend rain dropped the pollen count significantly, from 3,842 grams per cubic meter Friday to 980 grams per cubic meter Monday, according to Holstein.

High pollen counts might continue through mid-July, as other forms of pollen begin to increase, Holstein said. Grass pollen levels will rise as tree pollen levels drop over the next few months. Pollen from weeds will start to increase as fall approaches, she said.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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