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Published on May 22, 2017

Ah-choo! It’s tree pollen season on Cape CodAh-choo! It’s tree pollen season on Cape Cod

Take it from an expert: Spring pollen season on Cape Cod ranks among the worst in the nation.

“Generally, the Cape has a pretty severe spring allergy season,” said Ross A. Johnston, MD, an otolaryngologist with Cape Cod Ear, Nose and Throat in Hyannis.

“I would put the Cape’s spring up against anybody’s,” when it comes to the severity of the pollen, he said.

Spring allergies center around tree pollen, and this region has cedar, maple and birch that have been flooding the atmosphere with pollen since late March. Soon to come are oak and pine pollen, the latter so abundant that even people without allergies get their noses and eyes clogged with dusty particles that coat cars and form yellow scum on puddles. The Cape’s tree pollen season ends around mid-June, Dr. Johnston said.

Unlike urban areas or the grain- and grass-covered Midwest, the Cape is heavily forested. The wind here helps spread pollen, and the region’s usually mild winters and high humidity foster the growth of mold, another respiratory allergen.

“The issue isn’t just pine pollen,” D. Johnston said. “You have multiple tree types going gangbusters …kind of the perfect storm when pine pollen comes along, with multiple things to bother you.”

Limit Your Exposure

Pollen allergies, or hay fever, are very common. Twenty million American adults have been diagnosed with hay fever in the past 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease and Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. Pollen.com, which provides daily pollen forecasts, reports that of 67 million people in the United States who have some sort of allergy, 81 percent identify themselves as allergic to pollen.

Pollen allergies cause itchy eyes and sneezing noses, and the swelling and increased mucus can result in headaches, even sinusitis and bronchitis. People with asthma may be especially affected, as hay fever can trigger asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Though it will likely get worse before it gets better, tree pollen season will end in June. Then the milder grass pollen season begins, followed by ragweed in late summer and early fall. Pollen disappears in late fall, but indoor allergens, such as dust, mold and pet dander can irritate some people over the winter.

Steps you can take to limit exposure to pollen, according to Pollen.com:

  • Check pollen forecasts and stay indoors on high pollen count days, which are usually warm, dry and windy. Counts are higher during daylight hours. Rainy days provide a respite.
  • Keep doors and windows closed. Set air conditioners to recirculate inside air rather than sucking in outside air.
  • Wash your face and hands after going outside. Bathe and shampoo before going to bed.
  • Change clothes after going outside.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.

Most allergy sufferers can get relief from over-the-counter remedies, Dr. Johnston said. These include:

  • Antihistamines, such as Zyrtec and Claritin, which relieve itchy eyes, runny noses and other allergic reactions. There are also antihistamine eye drops, such as Bausch & Lomb Allergy Relief. They can reduce redness and itching.
  • Nasal steroids, such as Nasacort and Flonase, which reduce swelling, congestion and mucus production. However, they do require regular use, as they take several days to be effective, Dr. Johnston said.
  • Decongestants, such as Sudafed. These will dry up runny noses.
  • Saline sprays or washes, such as Arm & Hammer Simply Saline Wash or a Neti Pot. Not medicine, but simply salty water to wash pollen and excess mucus out of nasal cavities.

Those suffering even after taking precautions to avoid pollen and using over-the-counter medicine may need to see a doctor to determine which allergen is causing their symptoms, and get allergy shots or drops.

Dr. Johnston said his office sees many patients this time of year. Some of them moved here from areas where they didn’t experience pollen problems and get hit with hay fever.

“Welcome to Cape Cod!” he said.