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Warmer temperatures cause trees to start pollinating, causing early allergies this year

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, 7:21 p.m.
People walk the path at Highland Park Reservoir on Feb. 19, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
People walk the path at Highland Park Reservoir on Feb. 19, 2017.
A man rests on a bench while takng time to enjoy a warm day at Highland Park Reservoir on Feb. 19, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A man rests on a bench while takng time to enjoy a warm day at Highland Park Reservoir on Feb. 19, 2017.
People take time to enjoy a warm day at Highland Park Reservoir on Feb. 19, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
People take time to enjoy a warm day at Highland Park Reservoir on Feb. 19, 2017.

An early spring could also yield an early sneezing and wheezing season for allergy sufferers.

Record-breaking temperatures breezed through Western Pennsylvania last week bringing with them the potential for tree pollen and mold allergens that normally don't strike the region until late March, health experts said.

“The research shows that mild winters are going to lead to an early allergy season,” said Dr. Brian Lamb, an Allegheny Health Network internal medicine physician. “Some of the trees are going to start pollinating with the warmer weather.”

Early pollination can lead to higher pollen counts earlier in the season.

This winter, no doubt, came in like a lamb. Will it go out the same way in March?

The regional forecast looks to be sporadic with big swings. This week the high will be 68 degrees Wednesday followed by a low of 23 degrees on Friday.

“Independent of pollen issues, a lot of fluctuations in the weather can be a trigger for people suffering from asthma,” said Dr. Todd Green, an allergist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

He said tree pollen starts flying in early spring while grass pollen kicks up in May.

“In years like this, we'll see it sooner — definitely when we have early warm-ups,” Green said. “Given the weather we had last week, it would not surprise me at all to see the pollen flying soon.”

An early allergy season could overlap with the end of cold and flu season, meaning the sniffles could be a symptom of either or both.

In general, itchy eyes, nose or throat would suggest allergy symptoms. A cold or flu virus is usually accompanied by muscle aches and pains and a fever.

If the weather stays moderate, people with seasonal pollen allergies may want to consider starting their medications now. Allergy shots should be administered in advance of the season to be effective.

“Start with an over-the-counter antihistamine if you're already noticing something,” Lamb said. “Those who use nasal sprays may also want to start those.”

Still, a cold snap with snow and freezing temperatures could serve as an equalizer. Rain also reduces pollen counts.

When this season kicks into gear, specialists caution that pollen counts are the highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., so limiting outside exposure during those times can help diminish allergy symptoms

“If you are an allergy sufferer you want to see a wet spring and a spring that comes a little later,” Lamb said. “There's still a chance that we'll get some winter around here.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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