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What’s behind the pollen vortex?

Tip of a tulip stamen with many grains of pollen
JJ Harrison/Wikipedia

I spoke with Tonya Winders about deception and allergy testing. Ms. Winders, MBA, is President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA). Recently we spoke about the "Pollen Vortex."

What’s Behind the ‘Pollen Vortex’?

"Pollen is in the air – everywhere you look around. And for people with pollen allergies, it has been an especially harsh spring, thanks to the so-called “pollen vortex.”

Long-awaited warm spring weather is coming on the heels of an exceptionally snowy, icy and cold winter – dubbed the “polar vortex” – in many parts of the United States, particularly the northeast. Add in April showers, and trees were soaked with precipitation this spring.

“When trees take in more water, they thrive,” says Stanley Fineman, MD, a board-certified allergist with Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic and an Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) board member. “When trees thrive, they release more pollen.”

The pollen coats our cars and fills our noses, eyes and lungs, stimulating our immune system to get rid of it. The nose and lungs produce excess mucus in sinus passages, while small airways and tear ducts get clogged, leading to incessant sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

How to protect yourself?

Some AANMA tips:

• Use an over-the-counter saline nasal spray and/or sterile saline eye drops to flush out pollen from your nasal passages and eyes.

• Take a bath or shower before going to bed to remove pollen collected in your hair during the day.

• Keep your windows closed during pollen season and on bad pollen days, exercise indoors.

• Use allergy medications before symptoms begin or at the first sign of symptoms to receive their maximum benefit.

• Consult a board-certified allergist if symptoms do not respond well to over-the-counter medications within three days.

Is there more at work behind this extreme pollen season?

Some doctors and scientists think climate change – in particular longer, wetter winters – may be one reason. Studies show that spring allergy seasons have gradually become longer and more intense, especially in northern states. Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, are an effective treatment for pollen and other inhaled environmental allergens, such as animal dander and mold spores. “Immunotherapy helps build tolerance to an allergen so the patient can better tolerate exposure – and that tolerance continues even after the immunotherapy ends,” Dr. Fineman says.

Tonya Winders, MBA, is President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), a leading national nonprofit patient education organization dedicated to ending needless death and suffering due to allergies, asthma and related conditions. Visit www.aanma.org.