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Baylor College of Medicine News

Mild winter may mean early allergy season

Although parts of Texas were lucky not to experience harsh temperatures this winter, it may mean an earlier and longer allergy season is near, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Allergies depend on weather patterns – most trees shed during late fall and winter and begin to pollinate when they get their leaves back. The earlier it gets warm during the winter season, the earlier the trees begin to pollinate. This is a good time for trees to start pollinating," said Dr. Madhu Narra, assistant professor of medicine at BCM.

Mountain cedar pollen high

Narra says that moderate to high levels of pollen are already present in some areas. One specific tree, the mountain cedar, pollinates in December and January in the Austin area and the pollen can travel as far as Houston. The mountain cedar pollen is currently at high levels.

"We are seeing early pollination of trees like oak, elm and ash," said Narra. "Because they are able to pollinate early, this could be a bad allergy season and the duration of the season could be prolonged," said Narra.

He also expects grass to begin pollinating early if the current warm weather and rain patterns continue.

Track allergens

Narra recommends checking your city website to keep track of allergens that are present. If you are allergic to tree pollen, try to stay indoors when the levels are very high and change your clothes and wash your hair if you do spend a long time outdoors. Be sure to clean pets before they come into the house because they can carry pollen in with them, and leave windows and doors closed in the house and car.

If you have bad spring allergies, don’t wait until spring to start treating them, said Narra. Many people may confuse allergies this early in the season for a cold or infection, but be sure to check with your physician to see if it’s actually allergies.

Allergy symptoms

Classic allergy symptoms include runny and itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, congestion, drainage and cough. Some people whose allergies trigger asthma may have chest symptoms like wheezing and trouble breathing. Other symptoms include dark circles under the eyes due to congestion and sinus pressure.

For mild allergies, consider over-the-counter medications like loratadine or cetirizine that usually do not cause drowsiness. If prescription medications and nasal sprays do not help, or if long-term relief from severe allergies is desired, consider getting allergy shots, which can provide long lasting relief with four to five years of treatment.