DOWNTOWN — As we say goodbye to snow (we hope) and temperatures finally start to climb, you may be ready to celebrate. But people with allergies could be in for a rough spring.
Warm, drier weathers typically make for higher levels of pollen, and that kind of weather is exactly what Chicago is expecting this spring, said AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel.
Pollen — what plants put out when they’re getting freaky — is a common trigger for allergies.
“Overall, more people are allergic to spring pollen,” Samuhel said. “In the spring you have almost all the trees that produce pollen, and the grass [produces pollen], eventually, once it starts growing.”
The spring is typically rough for allergy sufferers thanks to all the pollen from trees, grass and flowers, but April and May tend to be the worst for Chicagoans since March still has wintry weather, Samuhel said. Now that April has arrived, the worst days for allergy sufferers tend to be ones where it’s warm, sunny and there’s a light breeze, he said.
Dr. Anju Peters, a Northwestern professor of allergy and immunology, said she’s starting to see patients coming in for allergy problems because tree pollen picks up toward the end of March and beginning of April.
Allergy symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion. While those symptoms might just last a week or two for people with colds, allergy sufferers experience symptoms for months on end come spring, Peters said, and some have allergies so bad they cause asthma-like symptoms.
“They impair school performance, work performance. They impair your daily activities, being outside,” Peters said, calling allergies a “quality of life” problem.
People with allergies can try over-the-counter antihistamines, Peters said; if those don’t work, they can use a nasal steroid spray. People who know their allergies will act up should start using the spray about two weeks before the allergy season stars and should use it regularly to alleviate symptoms, Peters said.
Once symptoms are “bothersome,” allergy sufferers should see a doctor who can help them and prescribe medication, Peters said. Those who suspect they have allergies can get testing done to see what they’re allergic to so they can start treatment before allergy season kicks off every spring.
When exactly allergy season is can change from person to person and allergy to allergy.
Grass pollen season goes May to June, ragweed season stars at the end of July and peaks around Labor Day and the mold count will go up as the weather gets hot and humid before peaking as leaves fall in the autumn, Peters said.
“In general we also know as the climate is changing, potentially with climate change … plants are blooming earlier so pollen counts are higher and lasting longer,” Peters said.
Day-to-day weather can affect allergies, too: Those allergic to grass pollen may notice worse breathing problems after a bad rain storm, Peters said.
People with bad allergies should consider keeping inside with the windows closed and air conditioning on when possible during the height of allergy season, Peters said.
Since pollen counts tend to be higher in the morning, those who do have to venture outside should try to go out later in the day, she said. Wearing a hat, glasses and changing clothes after coming back inside can also help allergy sufferers who have to go out into the pollen.
“The other thing that I tell people is be careful,” Peters said. “On a dry, windy day, potentially mold spores may go further, pollen may go further, so, yeah, you may notice more symptoms.”
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.