If you’ve ever been in Atlanta in the Spring, you’re likely familiar with the signature yellow haze covering every discernible surface, especially parked cars. This sudden dusting of pine pollen, and the return of seasonal allergies, never fails to rear its ugly head in the Capital of the South. Though it’s “the city too busy hate,” pollen and its subsequent side effects certainly aren’t greeted with a friendly “Hey, y’all.”
Understanding Pollen in Atlanta
So where does pollen even come from? Starting with the basics, pollen is produced by male plants as a means of sexual reproduction—it’s then spread to other plants by animals (like insects and birds) or wind (often the cause of allergy woes). There are three major sources of pollen: tree, grass, and weed. As of now, tree pollen is the most insidious, with Atlanta weather experts drawing attention to pines, oaks, birches, maples, and sweetgums.
Atlanta Pollen Count
Forecasters use a numeric system to classify tree, grass, weed and mold pollen counts on a range of low, medium, high and very high, with percentile scales created by the National Allergy Board of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. For tree pollen, those ranges correspond to the following numbers:
- Low: 0-14
- Medium: 15-89
- High: 90-1499
- Very High: 1500+
According to the Atlanta Allergy Pollen Count, the current (April 2016) average pollen count in Atlanta is around 786, with a range of 69 to 2555. In March 2016, levels were even higher, peaking at a whopping 4,107.
This year, high pollen counts hit Atlanta earlier than expected—two weeks early, in fact, with “very high” levels recorded as early as mid-March. According to research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, climate change is a contributing factor: “Climate change, resulting in more frost-free days and warmer seasonal air temperatures, can contribute to shifts in flowering time and pollen initiation from allergenic plant species," their website states.
"Increased CO2 by itself can elevate production of plant-based allergens. Higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons can increase allergic sensitizations and asthma episodes and diminish productive work and school days.”
Don’t let seasonal allergies sully a Saturday spent enjoying a much-needed reprieve from winter—there are steps that can be taken to get the most out of one of the best seasons for enjoying all that Atlanta has to offer.
Not only does pollen cause common allergy ailments, like itchy eyes, a runny nose, an irritated throat and nasal congestion, but it can also create secondary illnesses, like sinus infections and asthma complications, explains Dr. Stanley Fineman, American Board of Allergy and Immunology certified physician at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic (and one of Atlanta’s best allergists).
The first step to avoiding these ailments: get an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your allergy symptoms so you can remove the trigger, says Dr. Fineman. For example, if the trigger is tree pollen, you can track pollen counts (Atlanta Allergy and Asthma sends out daily pollen count level reports for free) and opt to stay inside and cozy up to a book or Netflix when the counts are highest, says Dr. Fineman.
To ease your stuffy nose and itchy eyes, Dr. Fineman also recommends using air conditioning indoors and while driving, cleaning pets who spend time outdoors, washing your hair before bed, leaving your shoes near the door to avoid tracking pollen grains further into your home and changing clothes after being outdoors.
Get ahead of the pollen with preventative measures to prevent ever having a reaction, says Dr. Fineman, who recommends nasal sprays and antihistamines.
Dr. Taz Bhatia, a board-certified physician and founder of Atlanta’s CentreSpringMD + Spa (the city’s premiere integrative medicine practice), recommends natural, holistic preventative measures, which can be just as effective.
“It starts with digestive health, which dictates your allergy response,” says Dr. Bhatia. “[So eat a diet] low in sugar, refined carbs and dairy, and high in probiotics and probiotic-rich foods, like non-dairy kefir or kombucha. Also, stay hydrated with at least 100 ounces of purified water a day.”
Because the human body’s reaction to an allergy trigger typically involves inflammation, focus on reducing inflammation with supplements and herbs like turmeric, amla and fish oil, says Dr. Bhatia.
While you’re changing your air conditioning filter and warding off pollen with closed windows, Dr. Bhatia also recommends rinsing nasal passages with a neti-pot. “Also, consider taking a natural anti-histamine, like quercitin, before allergy season hits hard,” advises Dr. Bhatia.
There’s a belief that local honey can help reduce allergy symptoms, too. “The thought behind it is that the local allergens that are the worst, so consuming local honey cross pollinated by local bees helps the immune system’s response,” explains Dr. Bhatia. Though not everyone agrees honey helps allergies, it can’t hurt you either, so it’s a low-risk tactic worth trying.