Central Delaware
Seasonal allergies a downside to pleasant springtime

DOVER — After such a brutal winter, finally spring has arrived.

The sun’s shining, the birds are chirping, but too bad your eyes are too watery to enjoy it.

Maybe you have a stuffy nose and piercing headache as well, which can only mean one thing — it’s time for seasonal allergies.

The prevalence of allergic diseases in the United States has increased in the last 30 years, a study by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2008. Climate change, the study reported, could impact the increase of allergens across the country as temperatures near the coast further affect precipitation and CO2 levels.

If that is the case, seasonal hay fever would most likely be affected by the varying levels.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology lists hay fever as most commonly triggered by pollen that causes symptoms in the nose, throat, eyes, ears skin and roof of mouth in some cases.

Some may think the beautiful array of tulips and flowering trees in downtown Dover set off massive amounts of pollen, but Sue Barton, a professor with the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, said pollen bearers are quite the opposite.

“People with tree pollen allergies sometimes assume that trees with colorful flowers — like apple or cherry trees — will trigger symptoms,” Dr. Barton said in an email message. “In fact, flowering trees usually have bigger, stickier pollen that doesn’t blow in the wind or cause symptoms.”

Flowering tree pollen is larger and less likely to be distributed by the wind, she said.

“Most trees release their pollen in the late winter or early spring. Tree pollens that trigger allergies tend to be very fine and powdery. The wind can carry them for miles,” Dr. Barton added.

She noted that though pollen can almost be invisible, even inhaling a small amount can cause symptoms.

The most common trees that trigger allergies include ash, beech, birch, maple, elm, willow, mountain elder and oak.

In Delaware, according to the state’s Division of Air Quality, a pollen sampling taken on April 15 found maple and pine trees were the most common pollen producers of the season, so far.

The most common treatment for hay fever is simply avoidance, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology suggests, just avoid going outside.

Allergy shots are also a treatment approach for long-term relief, but it is also best to get ahead of allergy season by taking medications such as Zyrtec or Claritin, before trees start pollinating in late January.

However, weather can affect the amount of pollen circulating in the air at any time.

This winter in Kent County was the second snowiest on record since 1979, which will affect the impending pollen season, said Mitchell Gaines, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“With the length and the degree of the cold that we saw through the winter there are a few trees that are behind on their cycles,” Mr. Gaines said.

As temperatures begin to heat up (it’s supposed to get close to 70 degrees today), rainfall may help to keep the pollen at bay, he said.

“We haven’t gotten into a full born allergy season,” Mr. Gaines said. “I would say the worst of it is still to come because of the cold that’s gone on in the winter.”

Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow @DSNJen_Rini on Twitter.