Despite this weekend’s winter chill, yesterday’s high-60s temperatures signaled spring’s very welcome arrival to NYC. But along with the approaching Spring Equinox and the glorious sights of sidewalk planter tulips comes a complication — seasonal allergies. Add to that the new joy of wondering whether you have seasonal allergies or COVID-19 and you have a recipe for a very, er, eventful allergy season. But we at W42ST believe that with a quick primer (and above all else, following the advice of medical professionals) we can all breathe easier. 

Urban blossom can be a challenge for urban dwellers. Photo: Phil O’Brien

When is allergy season? 

Spring allergy season begins as temperatures warm and local plants begin to grow again, producing pollen. This period usually begins the second week in March, peaks around Mother’s Day Weekend (Sunday May 8), and fades away in June. 

Which plants trigger allergies in New York City? 

The tiny, cheery flowering buds you encounter along the green patches of Hudson River Park or Central Park are not to blame for your springtime congestion — that falls to maple, elm, and oak trees as well as juniper bushes, the leading sources of allergens in NYC. And in even better news, NYC is not the worst place to be when it comes to allergies — you can thank our concrete jungle where dreams are maaaaaade of and a relative lack of flowering plants compared to more verdant areas of the US. In fact, New York is only #58 in the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s ranking of the 100 Allergy Capitals of the US — take that, Albany (#11)!!!

If you are experiencing The Pollening™, however, check out the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s local pollen tracker for daily updates on the tree, weeds, grass, and mold levels in NYC (fun fact: AAAAI’s city tracker is located not far from Hell’s Kitchen at the Fordham University Lincoln Center campus). 

Does climate change make allergy season worse? 

In more unfortunate news, it does. According to a new study from the National Academy of Sciences, warmer temperatures induced by human-activated climate change are the primary contributor to a longer pollen season. As spring weather begins earlier and fall temperatures linger longer, the growing season (and therefore, pollen production) extends with each passing year. 

According to a study of 200 US locations by environmental media institute Climate Central, allergy season has lengthened 82% over the past 50 years. In addition to a longer season, another study found that pollen doubled with the increase of carbon dioxide, creating concerns that allergens could be at disruptive levels by the end of the century without preventative measures to curb emissions. If the US can manage to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord by mid-century, however, the increased severity and prevalence of allergy and asthma attacks is likely to lessen. Another reason to join local sustainability efforts

Is it true that even our pets can have allergies?

Yes — our furry friends are just as susceptible to pollen season as we are. Some breeds of dogs, including Terriers, Setters, Labs and Golden Retrievers, English and French Bulldogs, German Shepherds, Pugs, and Shar Peis are more prone to allergic reaction and experience atopic dermatitis, scratching and biting themselves to seek relief. Pet allergies can lead to more than just discomfort, as those who scratch too much may break the skin and incur a secondary infection. If you notice your pet has watery eyes or is excessively scratching or licking, consult with your veterinarian to see if they recommend an over-the-counter antihistamine or another treatment.

Our furry friends can also have allergies at this time of the year. Photo: Channey Tang-Ho/Unsplash

How can I conquer allergy season?

While everyone’s allergy triggers are different, The Mayo Clinic has a thorough guide to surviving allergy season. Their recommendations include: 

  • Staying indoors on windy days and avoiding early morning and late evening outdoor activity (when pollen counts are highest)  — the best time to walk outside is right after rain, when pollen has been temporarily washed away 
  • After returning home, changing clothes that you’ve worn outside and may contain trace amounts of pollen
  • Wearing a pollen mask for outdoor chores (this one should be easy…)
  • Preemptively taking allergy medications before going outdoors during the peak of pollen season
  • Keeping indoor air dry with a dehumidifier 
  • Using HEPA air filters to clean indoor air
  • Visiting an allergy specialist or general practitioner for personal medical recommendations

With that, we wish you a pleasant, clear-sinus spring — full of stopping to smell the roses and frolicking in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen! 

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