Spring is arriving earlier than ever in North Jersey and so are pollen and allergies

Spring is hitting parts of North Jersey earlier than ever before, according to the National Phenology Network’s Spring Leaf Index. Allergy season won’t be far behind.

“The bottom line is: Spring in the Northeast is bad,” said John Oppenheimer, the director of clinical research at Pulmonary and Allergy Associates at Morristown Medical Center. “New Jersey has a really big spring season. Avoiding it is almost impossible.”

The 2023 AccuWeather Allergy Forecast, released last week, set a moderate outlook for the tri-state region. The timing is nevertheless extreme.

The National Phenology Network’s Spring Leaf Index for 2023 shows the earliest recorded spring being recorded in parts of New Jersey and the Northeast.

Spring comes earlier to North Jersey

AccuWeather Allergy Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert, who led the forecast, said the early onset of spring in the Northeast is expected to bring an early start to the tree pollen season — and, consequently, allergy season.

About one in four Americans has seasonal allergies, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with women more likely to suffer the effects than men.

What is hay fever?

Sneezing, runny nose and congestion, the symptoms of hay fever, are all common reactions to allergens such as pollen when the human immune system recognizes them as a threat. The process, called allergic rhinitis, is caused by inflammation of the nasal membranes, Oppenheimer said. Data from the 2021 National Health Interview Survey shows that 29.9% of women are affected, compared to 21.1% of men.

An early spring means an earlier allergy season for North Jersey.

An early spring means an earlier allergy season for North Jersey.

“It usually starts in childhood, but an adult can also develop seasonal allergies,” says Catherine Monteleone, an allergist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “We’re seeing more of that as pollen counts have gotten higher with climate change and the seasons are getting longer.”

Rising temperatures mean more pollen

A study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2021 found that rising temperatures are boosting the pollen load in the United States. The study, which examined trends across North America from 1990 to 2018, found that frost-free days are decreasing and growing seasons are lengthening. The trends were most pronounced in the Midwest and Northwest. However, the Northeast was not immune.

A blossom of a dogwoo tree.

A blossom of a dogwoo tree.

Expect normal pollen levels this spring

Despite the early start of the growing season this spring, Reppert said lower-than-average temperatures in the Northeast this spring should lead to normal pollen levels.

The same goes for clumps of grass in late spring to early summer. While Reppert predicted rising grass pollen levels in the eastern states after an expected wet and warm spell, he said a predicted rise in cooler temperatures and added moisture during the second half of summer should keep levels in the Northeast closer to normal.

The good news ends there.

Prepare for high levels of weed pollen this fall

Reppert said higher-than-normal temperatures and humidity levels should lead to significant levels of weed pollen along the East Coast later in 2023.

Monteleone said allergy sufferers in the region should get ahead of the problem. Start taking allergy medications before the pollen loads hit the air. Oppenheimer said many preventative medications are available over the counter, but still recommended talking to a doctor about which one is best.

“We often resort to medications that may not be best for the symptoms we have,” he said. “If you know that you suffer from it every spring, you would rather do it before than after the car accident, so to speak.”

The biology of pollination

As winter fades, trees produce buds that open to begin pollination. From about February to May, trees produce pollen. Grass pollen usually arrives in April. Then, from August to November, ragweed and many other weeds tend to release their pollen.

According to Monteleone, it’s also good practice to keep an eye on pollen count reports. Local television stations often add them to weather forecasts on news programs. The National Allergy Bureau’s online pollen map is another good resource, she said.

A few more tips

  • Go outside later in the day when the pollen count is low.

  • Wear sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.

  • Provide separate clothing and shoes for indoors and outdoors.

  • Keep the windows of your house closed.

  • Showering after spending time outdoors.

  • Wear a hat if you don’t plan on washing your hair.

  • Avoid drying clothes and bedding on an outside line.

Oppenheimer said, keep your air conditioner on and your windows closed when pollen counts are high, but seek preemptive mediation. Don’t close yourself off at home.

“You can’t avoid the outside and you shouldn’t want to,” he said. “We wait all year for spring and summer.”

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Get ready, allergy season is here as spring arrives early in NJ

Spring is arriving earlier than ever in North Jersey and so are pollen and allergies

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