After a winter of heavy snow and below-normal cold for the East, the seasonal end of icy chills and piles of snow may be a welcomed break to some. For seasonal allergy sufferers, however, the warmer weather of spring will bring some serious discomfort along with it.
Because of their climates, the Northeast and the Southeast are hit the hardest by spring allergies. Allergist Neil Kao, M.D., explained that spring allergies are primarily triggered by tree pollens and mold, and conditions in the eastern half of the country allow for these particles to be especially prolific.
According to Kao, the severity of tree pollen allergies depends on the growth of those trees. In the Southeast, where oaks and maples are plentiful, the warmer air and intermittent rain that typically accompanies spring create ideal conditions for rapid tree growth.
AccuWeather.com Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said that a persistent area of high pressure stationed off the coast of New England will create wetter conditions for the Southeast this spring, which will aid in the production of tree pollen.
"I think the interior [Southeast] is getting hit the worst to start off," Pastelok said.
The harshest allergy conditions persist when there is intermittent rain. Meanwhile, trees will not flourish as quickly when conditions are very dry or consistent, heavy rain clears the air and pollen-coated surfaces.
The production of the tree pollen happens rapidly and all at once in the Southeast, which makes it such a hotbed for severe spring allergies. West of the Mississippi, trees are typically not as plentiful or the conditions and climate are not as conducive to the sudden outbreaks of pollen.
Kao noted that an exception would be the outbreak of cedar pollen that hits Texas in January.
Tree pollen particles are very small, and as such are able to spread easily without animal assistance. Winds, Kao said, can carry the particles as much as 200 miles away.
Around Greenville, S.C., where Kao works, the average peak of spring allergies is April 9.
In the Northeast, around the latitude of Philadelphia, spring allergies will peak an average of six weeks later. For "snowbirds" who spend their winters in the South and summers in the North, this can be particularly problematic, as they may begin allergy season in the South and return north to be hit by allergy season again.
This season may have a delayed start to the allergy season in the Northeast, as the AccuWeather.com long-range forecast team expects chill to linger a while longer for the region.
David Shulan, M.D., and a certified allergy and asthma consultant in Albany, said that if allergy season is delayed, it could easily rebound.
"When it does hit, it can be sudden and hard," Shulan said.
Colder weather can slow down or stop an allergy season already in progress, as plants are heavily influenced by sunlight and temperatures. Along with heavy rain that can wash pollen particles out of the air, frosts and freezes can also create a break for seasonal allergy sufferers.
"What's good for plants is bad for allergies," Kao said.
Typically, Kao said, though allergy season in the Northeast can be severe, it usually has a more gradual progression than in the South, which may limit the intensity. The Southeast also averages an overlap between the burst of allergy-inducing tree pollen season in the spring and the grass pollen allergy season of summer, whereas the North will usually get a reprieve between outbreaks.
He's quick to point out, however, that for those who suffer from allergies, once their symptoms start the count may not make as much of a difference in terms of discomfort.
"If you're drowning in a foot of water or 10 feet of water, you're still drowning," he explained.
For allergy sufferers to get some relief from their symptoms, Shulan recommends pharmaceutical remedies such as over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines. Nasal sprays can provide faster-acting relief, but many will require a prescription.
People looking to use a topical steroid cream to combat their allergies should begin before allergy season hits, Shulan said, as it can take time to build up their systems.