May 01, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

When Arctic cyclones known as the “polar vortex” blasted parts of the United States this winter, Utah residents were spared the deep freeze. However, this wild weather may create an equally unpleasant surge this spring: Allergy sufferers could find themselves grappling with what news outlets such as The Washington Post have dubbed the “pollen vortex.”

“Now that it's finally warming up, trees are expected to bloom at the same time as grasses, causing a dramatic rise in pollen,” a recent LiveScience article warns.

“Things warmed up pretty quickly after that long, cold winter, so it seemed like it came along with a little more force this year,” says ear, nose and throat specialist Kevin Wilson, MD, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “It does seem, anecdotally, that this has been a rough year so far.”

Wilson says trees, grasses and weeds, which generally release pollen at different times of the year, can trigger seasonal allergies.

“The trees that are the biggest culprits in Utah include things like cottonwood trees, oak and maple,” he says. Ordinarily, we’d just be in the middle of tree season right now, but LiveScience explains that this spring, both trees and grasses are releasing pollen at the same time.

No More “Achoo”: Treating Allergies

Allergies are among the most common health problems. However, it is difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from pollen allergies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012 survey data showed that 17.6 million U.S. adults and 6.6 million children had been diagnosed with hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, in the last 12 months.

Symptoms that people affected by seasonal pollen allergies can experience include:

  • itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat and skin
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • nasal congestion
  • “There are three ways we address and treat allergies,” Wilson says. “The first is environmental control or avoidance, reducing exposure to the allergens.”

Since tree pollen is worse in the morning and on windy days, people who are allergic might want to stay inside then. When inside, keep windows closed at night and use air conditioning. They also might consider using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in the bedroom, putting a HEPA filter on their vacuum cleaner and using a dehumidifier at home.

Wilson also notes that over-the-counter antihistamines can provide relief for some people.

People with severe allergies could benefit from immunotherapy, commonly called allergy shots, he says. “It creates a tolerance and desensitizes the patient,” Wilson says. “It takes several months but then the improvement typically lasts for years.”


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