This story was originally published in June of 2018. All pollen data has been updated to reflect March 2022 data.
Anyone who is currently sneezing, wheezing and rubbing their eyes more than usual as they deal with seasonal allergies does not need reminding pollen season is Maine is in full swing.
“We are definitely seeing an increasing trend in seasonal allergies,” said Dr. Elias Akl, allergist and immunology specialist with Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Much of that is due to climate change, whether you want to believe [in climate change] or not.”
Akl said that changes in climate and weather patterns have resulted in longer summers and springs in Maine, the times of the year when allergy-causing pollens are most active and present.
“We’ve really noticed an increased trend in [pollen] allergies over the last 20 years,” Akl said.
Production of pollen — the fine, powdery grains produced by the male flowering plants — is dependent on light and temperatures. That’s why an area’s pollen count — how many grains of pollen are actually wafting around in the air — can vary highly from one week, or even one day, to the next. Anyone who has gone outside to find their car covered with powderly yellow pollen dust can attest to this.
The most common sources of pollen in Maine this time of year are pine trees, maple trees, oak trees, birch trees and grasses.
According to information online at The Weather Channel and supplied by the National Weather Service office in Caribou, Maine’s tree pollen counts are expected to be moderate through the week of March 21.
Symptoms of pollen-caused seasonal allergies — also known as hay fever — include watery eyes, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, increased mucus and headaches, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
While there is no 100 percent effective cure for pollen allergies, Akl said there are steps people can take to help make pollen season more bearable.
“There are antihistamine medications available over the counter but they all don’t do much other than mask the symptoms,” Akl said. “They really don’t have much of benefit beyond that.”
To really combat seasonal allergies, Akl recommends intranasal steroids that are sprayed or inhaled directly into the nose.
“These are available over the counter and it does not matter what brand you get, they are all helpful,” he said. “They must be used on a daily basis three to four weeks ahead of pollen season so your body is primed to deal with pollen. Then continue through the season.”
Other strategies Akl said can help get through a Maine pollen season include keeping car windows closed when driving around, using air conditioning in the home that can filter outside air before it gets inside and taking a shower immediately after coming inside to remove any pollen on the body. In extreme cases, sufferers can be tested to determine exactly what kinds of pollen they are allergic to and receive shots to desensitize them.
Some pollen sufferers prefer a more natural approach and swear by local, raw honey, which they claim contains all the pollen needed to desensitize the body to the allergens.
“We keep bees [and] at the beginning of the season I thought allergies were going to make life difficult this year,” said Michelle Schrader of Maple Knoll Farm in Solon. “I started eating a teaspoon of raw honey each day and haven’t had any head woes.”
Akl said he has heard many people make that claim, but stressed there is little scientific evidence to back it up.
“All the studies I have read do not back this up,” he said. “Eating the honey does not seem to be helpful.”
For her part, Schrader is sticking with the strategy for health reasons and the pure pleasure of the natural sweetener.
“We extracted a frame that was filled [with honey] this spring,” she said. “It had such a delicious, flowery taste.”
Regardless of what works for the individual, Akl said there is no need to suffer all season. Looking on the bright side, fall — and the typical end of pollen season — is only 189 days away on Sept. 23.
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