Spring allergies hit earlier and harder this year

Published: Sunday, April 6 2014 7:15 p.m. MDT

Molly Hadfield prunes trees around the house, Wednesday, April 2, 2014, in Provo. She has allergies periodically, and spring allergies are hitting people earlier and harder.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Molly Hadfield of Provo spent a recent afternoon outside weeding. The next day she was "miserable," thanks to major pressure in her head and other allergy symptoms.

While her cedar tree pollen allergies seem to be over for now, she knows she'll be dealing with more pollen allergies this summer.

"It usually starts with itchy nose, itchy eyes, itchy throat, and then starts with the nose running. … It's not fun because it helps to use medications, but there's almost always side effects," said Hadfield, who developed allergies in her late 20s.

This year the tree pollen season started earlier and is more aggressive because of the warm and windy weather, according to Dr. Craig Moffat, an allergy and immunology specialist at Intermountain Sandy Clinic.

Except for orchard workers, most people are allergic to nonflowering trees that pollinate using wind, such as maples, willows and elms.

"Every year we go through a systematic release of pollen in the air," he said. "We begin with trees in the spring. Trees normally start up in about March, but, this year, they began earlier in February because of the warm weather that we had, so there’s an earlier blooming."

In addition to the warm weather, southern winds blowing pollen from southern Utah have also contributed to the problem in the Salt Lake Valley.

Water content will determine how seasonal allergies go from here. Grass allergies usually hit the last week of April and last through August. Moffat said a wet spring means more grass growth and a higher pollen count. Weeds usually keep allergy sufferers sneezing from June to late fall.

Varying agencies estimate between 10 percent and 30 percent of the population has allergic rhinitis, commonly called hay fever. It's a genetic disorder with year-round forms caused by allergens like animal dander, indoor mold and dust mites. Seasonal forms of the disease are simple allergies due to pollens, trees, grasses and weeds.

"People get allergies because they have the gene for it," Moffat said. "The usual statistics are that if one parent has allergies, about a third of the children will have them. If both parents have allergies, about two-thirds of the children will have allergies."

Hadfield's children, ages 5 and 7, seem to have the same allergies she has, which makes it tricky to keep everyone feeling and sleeping well.

The number of people affected by allergies is growing, possibly because modern society is more isolated from infections.

"As a result of excessive hygiene care, we are making ourselves more vulnerable to immune reactivity against pollens instead of germs, viruses and bacteria," Moffat said, noting that the prevalence of allergies is low in developing countries and higher in developed societies.

Keeping windows and doors closed can help — particularly during morning pollination hours.

"Swamp coolers … actually promote pollen influx into the house because the filters on those aren't very good, so it drags the outdoor in, puts it through a cooler, but the pollen comes indoors," Moffat said.

Using central air conditioning, he said, is the best way to keep the pollens out.

"We had a swamp cooler and it was super bad. We turned it off, it was so bad," said Tony Vance of Provo.

Vance developed allergies when he was 19. All through spring and early summer, he deals with sometimes uncontrollable sneezing and other symptoms because of a few grasses and bushes in Utah.

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