Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College

Pollen from a variety of common plants: sunflower (Helianthus annuus), morning glory Ipomoea purpurea, hollyhock (Sildalcea malviflora), lily (Lilium auratum), primrose (Oenothera fruticosa) and castor bean (Ricinus communis). 

The wet winter storms that pounded Southern California over the last few months are helping Los Angeles shatter records and boost rainfall totals to impressive levels, pushing way past the measurements typically taken in late January and into February.

Forget that the calendar says it’s still winter. Allergy season is already hitting much of California despite the first day is spring being March 20.

The windy and wet winter has given way to unseasonable high mold spores across California. Multiple counties are reporting high tree pollen counts weeks earlier than normal sending allergy patients to their doctors with early exacerbation of their allergic symptoms.

Dr. Jacob Offenberger, allergist and immunology specialist with Dignity Health-Northridge Hospital, said the mild but wet weather that has hit much of California will likely mean a worse season for allergy sufferers. Los Angeles, Orange County and Ventura County saw record levels of rain that will increase the mold allergy count that normally is not clinically significant in a drought year for patients with outdoor mold allergies.

“Allergy season is directly related to how much it has rained,” Offenberger said. Abundant amounts of rain leads to breathtaking green covered hills and lawns, but also the abundance of pollen. With more pollen in the air, we will be expecting this season to be one of the strongest allergy seasons on record.

The biggest challenge this year, Offenberger said, will be treating patients that are normally not affected. Patients with mold allergy and dust mite allergy will have an increase in symptoms. People who have roof leaks or home flooding will experience symptoms related to both indoor and outdoor mold exposure. The top allergens released in the spring are tree and grass pollens.

“The type of tree pollen released largely depends on the region,” Offenberger said. However, primarily oak, olive, walnut, ash and eucalyptus tree pollens are the cause of symptoms in the spring. Symptoms are more prevalent when the tree and grass pollens co-exist and during windy days.

In the U.S., approximately 25 million people have asthma of which almost 7 million are children. There is a higher incidence of asthma exacerbation, emergency room visits and admissions to the hospital during peak pollen season. There is also a disproportionate increase in hospitalizations and asthma deaths for African Americans with asthma compared to Caucasians.

Allergy symptoms can affect the nose, chest, skin and eyes ranging from mild symptoms, such as congestion, coughing, skin rash and itchy water eyes to more severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing and rashes/hives all over the body.

“All over the country we have seen record rainfall this season,” Offenberger said. “Grass is sprouting, leaves are growing and flowers are blooming.  Add warmer than normal temperatures to the mix and this is the perfect recipe for an early allergy season.”