Brace for an early, brutal allergy season

Spring officially begins this year on March 19, marking its earliest arrival in 124 years, but what also might come early is allergy season.

There is a price to pay for the ponds that never froze, the cold that rarely came, the soil that got soaked this winter instead of snowed over - and we will pay it in pollen.

“We don’t have a sort of a groundhog-type mechanism that comes out of the ground as allergists and tells us how the spring is going to be,” said Paige Wickner, MD, MPH, Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

Allergists don’t need a groundhog to make a prediction about the coming allergy season, all they really need is a rain gauge and a thermometer.

“We have seen so many warm days like so many of us have questioned what coat do I wear this time of year even though it’s January and I think that is definitely going to affect the pollen production,” said Wickner.

Wickner, an allergist and immunologist, is already advising patients to prepare for a significant spring allergy season by, for example, taking non-prescription allergy medications before the trees bloom.

“Once someone is feeling congested, feeling itchy eyes, sneezing, tickling and cough in the back of their throat... it’s much harder to sort of backtrack. To get them back to baseline, back to feeling 100%,” she said.

Seasonal allergies affect more than 16% of adults and children in the United States or more than 26 million people, and that number is growing.

“I think part of it is detection... part of it is awareness,” said Wickner.

A big part of it, allergy organizations say, is a warming planet that ends up producing more pollen, and that’s not all.

“And earlier timing of that pollen and a longer duration of symptoms and earlier symptoms,” said Wickner.

>> Where did all the snow go? A look into why January has been feeling more like spring than winter