Earliest Tree Pollen on Record Points to a Long, Challenging Allergy Season

By West Penn Allegheny Health System

Tree pollen in the air in February? Unheard of – at least until now. The pollen detector on the roof of Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) in Pittsburgh has detected moderate amounts of tree pollen in February for the first time ever.

Tree pollen normally arrives in April and is gone by Memorial Day. The last documented early tree pollen detection happened in March 2007.

But even before the pollen detector did its work, David Skoner, MD, and Deborah Gentile, MD, of the Department of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at Allegheny General knew something was in the air. That’s because of the line of patients already at their door with allergy-related symptoms, another unusual occurrence for February.

“The winter months are normally quiet, but by the last week of February we were busy with patients already experiencing severe symptoms related to allergy and asthma,” Dr. Skoner said. “This is a first for February.”

The warmer-than-normal winter in the northeast means plants are already starting to grow, and releasing into the air the spores that provoke allergy sufferers’ symptoms: congested or runny nose, sneezing and post-nasal drip, itchy or watery eyes, wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing.

“I often advise patients to begin taking medications now, be it over-the-counter antihistamines or prescription nasal sprays,” Dr. Gentile said. “This could be a very long pollen season.”