Abundant fall and winter rains brought green grass and wildflowers galore to the hills of Napa Valley this spring. That same rain also contributed to something else: allergies.
“It’s been bad,” said Abhijit Adhye, M.D., an internal medicine physician affiliated with Queen of the Valley Medical Center.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Napa allergy expert Larry Posner, M.D.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million Americans experience various types of allergies each year. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.
While grass pollen is often discussed when it comes to allergies, Posner noted that up until now tree pollens have been this spring’s biggest culprit.
“Pollen from oak trees has been the worst this year,” said Posner.
At the peak in April, oak tree pollen was measured at 100 pollen grains per cubic yard of air, said the doctor. By early May, the number was down to 15.
“Oak tree pollen is on the way down and the grasses are on the way up,” said Posner. “A lot of people are feeling better right now but most people are grass allergic as well so there will be a second wave.”
This past fall and winter, “we’ve had more rain than in a number of years and that is almost linearly related to how much grass pollen we’ll get,” said Posner.
“All the hills that are lush and green from winter rain are starting to dry out,” and that’s the major source for grass pollen in the valley.
“It’s not your lawn,” he said. “It’s the hillsides.”
Late fall rains means that that grass is slower to dry out. “We’re about two weeks behind,” said Posner. “Usually the grass pollen is going pretty hard right now but we’re in a little dip.”
For example, last year this time, grass pollen counts would be at about 40 to 50 pollen grains per cubic yard of air. However, in early May the grass pollen count was 9, said Posner. By the end of May, it will be well over 100, he said.
Posner said Memorial Day weekend typically marks the height of allergy season. “It peaks and tapers down through June and usually by July 4 the grass pollen is finished.”
Posner said he’s seeing patients who have never had allergies before. “In a bad year, you are going to pick up people who don’t normally have allergies.”
For those with seasonal allergies, “the key thing is to be very consistent in taking your medication.”
Many people only want to take allergy medication on a bad day but that is not effective, said Posner.
“There are very good over the counter products but you have to be consistent in taking them. And don’t even think about backing off until mid to end of June,” said Posner. “That makes a big difference for relief.”
“If you know that every allergy season you are affected, start it at the beginning of spring and take it on a daily basis,” said Adhye.
Adhye said that allergies can make asthma worse. In some cases, he recommends a steroid inhaler, which helps decrease the inflammation in the lungs. The doctor said some patients are hesitant to use an inhaler because they don’t want to use it permanently, but Adhye said it doesn’t have to be the case.
For those who have allergies, when the pollen count is high, keep your doors and windows closed, Adhye recommended. Take a shower before you go to bed. This helps washes the pollen from your hair and body. “Sometimes that helps at night,” he said.
If you continue coughing and become short of breath or wheeze — especially at night — it’s a good idea to visit the doctor, said Adhye.