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Wet winter sets stage for potentially bad allergy season

A bee feeds on a flowering Anigozanthus plant,

A bee feeds on a flowering Anigozanthus plant, also known as Kangaroo Paws. (March 25, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

When seasonal allergy time finally arrives in force, sufferers can expect a bumper crop of pollen -- courtesy of a wet winter that has left the ground saturated and the trees ready to burst, experts say.

"Trees are robust and full of nutrients," that are just waiting for the right combination of sunlight duration and several days of 50- to 60-degree temperatures, said Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergist and professor at the Center for Environmental Prediction at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"The ground is nice and wet -- a rich environment for pollinating trees and grasses," said Dr. Sharon Markovics, an allergist in Manhasset.

Depending on temperatures, trees on Long Island typically pollinate in late March, followed by grasses in early April, Markovics said. People can be affected earlier, however, by pollen blowing in from areas hundreds of miles to the south, she said.

But while last winter's numerous storms set the stage for a pollen fest, the ultimate severity of the season can be affected by weather to come, said Dr. Catherine Monteleone, an allergist and professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, with campuses in New Jersey.

An abundance of rain in April and May can wash much of the pollen out of the air, she said, while dry, windy days can mean trouble. That's because it's mostly "wind-pollinated" trees and grasses -- as opposed to plants pollinated by insects -- that cause people to have symptoms, she said.

Precipitation, including rain and melted snow, for December, January and February was 3.3 inches above normal, the weather service said.

As for expected precipitation in coming months? The National Weather Service says there's an equal chance of above, below and normal precipitation amounts for April, May and June, with normal at 4.34 inches, 3.78 and 4.27, respectively.

Last year's allergy season got an especially early start, allergists said, because of a mild winter and the record-breaking warmth of March that accelerated the pollination phase of many trees. Instead of the normal influx of patients in March and April last year, some allergists got calls as early as February.

In addition to pollen, warmer temperatures can mean a different problem for people in homes flooded by Sandy that were not effectively cleaned -- the resurgence of mold. Colder temperatures help suppress mold growth, but warmer temperatures, along with moisture, create conditions for it to thrive, said Dr. Ken Spaeth, director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Some allergists say that since superstorm Sandy hit Oct. 29 they have seen an uptick in patients with mold-related symptoms -- similar to those brought about by pollen allergies -- sneezing; runny nose; stuffy nose; and red, itchy, watery eyes.





Red, itchy, teary eyes

Itchy throat




Keep windows closed, in the car and at home

Remove shoes when entering your house

Wash hair at night

Wear glasses or sunglasses outside; goggles when biking or running

Source: composite of experts