First, the good news: Tree pollen season started much later this year compared to the past few years, a result of the prolonged winter and record-breaking snowfall that kept trees dormant longer.
Now, for the bad news: The delayed start of tree pollen season has caused it to overlap with grass, weed and mold pollen season, in what is being dubbed a “pollen vortex.”
In other words, this year’s allergy season is shorter, but is packing a much-bigger punch. That means the roughly 8 percent of all U.S. individuals ages 18 and older who suffer from seasonal allergies can expect a miserable few weeks, said allergist-immunologist Dr. Leonard Bielory. New Jersey’s only certified pollen counter, Bielory has been collecting and meticulously examining pollen grains under a microscope during allergy season for more than 25 years.
The local pollen forecast, provided by the National Weather Service, indicates tree pollen counts in the high range. The total count is expected to increase steadily over the course of the week, as the forecast calls for grass and weed pollen also to begin creeping into the high zones.
Pollen is the yellow-green grains that are produced by certain trees, grass and weeds and dispersed by the wind, causing irritation to the eyes and nose. A pollen count is determined by the number of grains of pollen collected in a cubic meter of air during a 24-hour period.
Bielory said the past few winters have been abnormally warm, causing trees to flower earlier and creating a longer allergy season. Last year, trees began pollinating in early February, with tree pollen counts already up to the 10,000-range by that time of year.
Last year’s high was on May 6, with 10,930 grains per cubic meter of air. That lasted into June.
Tree pollination has started a week earlier each year for the past three years. This year it actually started later — the first day of spring.
“This is the first time we didn’t have any pollen tree complaints before the first day of spring in over a decade,” he said. “It’s nice to see what a normal calendar year looks like.”
In a normal allergy season, trees will begin flowering about start of spring, while grasses and ragweed usually begin to pollinate later in the spring.
Dr. Robert Coifman is a local allergy specialist who runs a private practice, Allergy & Asthma of South Jersey, with offices based in Galloway Township and Millville. He confirmed the later start of seasonal allergy discomfort as well as the sudden increase, saying he’s seen a rush of patients in the past week, but very few in the week before that, as he had in recent years.
“Tree and grass pollen levels are both high right now, so were getting a double whammy,” Coifman said.
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