With a coat of yellow covering cars and sidewalks, there’s no missing the fact that it’s pollen season in the Lowcountry.
Thursday’s pollen level for Hilton Head Island was ranked as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 12, according to Pollen.com. That’s the highest it has been so far this year.
The five-day outlook on Pollen.com forecasted pollen levels to be about the same on Friday before dropping slightly over the weekend.
Tree pollen — the type of pollen that is the worst allergen, according to Dr. Thomas Beller of the Allergy and Asthma Center in Beaufort County — remains at high levels.
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Tree pollen season started early and strong in the Lowcountry this year.
Beller previously told The Island Packet the start varies from year to year but typically ramps up around the second weekend in March. This year, it was more than three weeks early.
That can be attributed to the weather going from cold to warm quickly, as it did in January and February.
Dry, windy weather spreads pollen quickly, producing a higher distribution of pollen, explained Pollen.com.
The total pollen count is measured by determining how many grains of pollen are in a square meter of air collected over 24 hours, according to Weather Underground.
Last year, on March 1 in Beaufort County, Weather.com listed the total pollen count as 416 in Beaufort County. Pollen season peaked at a count of 2,262 for several days in mid-April.
That means that as bad as it is right now for pollen, the potential is there for it to get worse.
“The peak can be as early as late February and as late as early April. Even late April in some cases,” said Beller. “Every year is a little different based on weather patterns. The earlier it gets warm, the earlier the trees are going to pollinate, and that tends to cause a longer pollen season.”
What to do?
Beller recommends taking antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays and over the counter allergy eye drops to combat the effects of pollen, and the earlier you do it, the better.
“Typically what I tell people is to load up with medication,” he said. “If you see a high pollen day coming, start your nasal spray, start your eye drops, start your Zyrtec a day or two ahead of time. You’ll have a better effect using the medicine ahead of time than just using it on that day.”
Those measures won’t work universally, though, and for those with more severe pollen allergies Beller recommends staying inside with windows and doors closed. You can also use filter masks available at most hardware stores if you have severe allergies and absolutely need to go outside.
There are also other options.
“Anyone suffering from a severe pollen allergy, there are ways to fix that issue with immunotherapy,” said Beller. “We can take pollen and repetitively vaccinate someone with it and make their symptoms dramatically better. We desensitize them to pollens and other allergens.”
Unlike smog or other environmental contaminants, pollen isn’t deadly for the most part, said Beller.
“Anaphylactic reactions typically don’t happen with airway exposure. That would be a highly unusual situation,” he said. “It’s not like a food allergy.”
At their worst, pollen allergies are usually just a nuisance. They won’t adversely affect your health according to Beller, though they can be very annoying.
If you’ve got asthma and severe pollen allergies, though. It is a different story.
“Can pollen be deadly? Yes,” said Beller. “If you have severe asthma and a severe allergy to pollen and you go out with a high pollen count and have a big asthma attack that’d be a serious situation.”
Except for that specific set of circumstances, though, pollen is just a vexing reality in the Lowcountry. Beller arrived here over a decade ago and has yet to encounter an “off year” for the phenomenon.
“It is funny that every year people are like ‘isn’t this the worst pollen season you’ve ever seen?’” he said. “I don’t know. I hear that every year.”