Why low pollen counts may not bring relief to some allergy sufferers

Many allergy sufferers turn to area allergen counts for things such as mold and pollen levels, so they can better prepare and predict how bad their allergies will be on a given day.

The allergy forecasts, as they’re sometimes called, are a great indicator for some people, but not so helpful for those who are more sensitive to a particular allergen.

Some of the most recent reports show that pollen and mold counts — two of the most common allergic reaction triggers — are low, but people who are allergic to them could still have itchy eyes and sneezing.

“Even though the levels are relatively low right now, sensitive patients will still have symptoms,” said Dr. Rachel Schreiber with Schreiber Allergy in Rockville, Maryland.

Schreiber said right now, fallen leaves are a good place for mold to lurk.

With tree pollen, the peak season is during April and May, but the pollen circulates in the air just about year-round in the D.C. region.

“Even though, today, our counts may be lower for trees, tomorrow they could actually be moderate — you just don’t know,” Schreiber said.

The mild temperatures could also lead to more of the pollen being picked up, because plants like to bloom when it is warm. “Warmer weather will make that pollen come out, and colder weather will suppress it,” Schreiber said.

Allergies are even more of a nuisance this year, because their symptoms can be similar to COVID-19.

Schreiber said one key difference doctors look for is a fever, because allergies normally don’t cause them. Anyone who is concerned they could have COVID-19 should consult a doctor to see if they should be tested for the virus, she added.

Right now, Schreiber said, she is encouraging her allergy patients to stay on allergy medicines until the first real freeze.

If you’re going outside, Schreiber recommended you take steps to protect yourself from the things that can set off your allergies, such as wearing a hat to keep pollen out of your hair and glasses to keep the stuff out of your eyes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people are wearing masks in public. Schreiber said this step being taken to stop the spread of the virus is also beneficial for people who are sensitive to outdoor allergens.

“Masks are really helpful for our allergic patients, because that’s another barrier between you and the outside world,” Schreiber said.

For pet owners, according to Schreiber, allergens can hitch a ride into your home on a dog’s fur during a walk. “When your dog comes back into the house, you’re bringing that all back in with you,” she said.

So, with a dog-safe wipe or a damp cloth, Schreiber said to wipe down dogs after every walk.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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