Not for at least another month, and probably not until mid-June.
What is North Carolina’s pollen calendar?
In order, the biggest pollen sources in the Southeast US are oak, cypress, grasses and pine, according to researchers from the University of Michigan.
Typically, North Carolina sees three spikes of pollen. Trees emit the most pollen, and peak in April. Grasses peak in May. Weeds peak at the start of September.
That’s the calendar for Forsyth County and the Triangle; Western NC tends to lag a bit in the spring — “maybe a week behind to two weeks. It really just depends on the weather,” said Robert Barden, NC State extension associate dean.
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“This year has pretty much followed those historical trends,” said Assistant State Climatologist Corey Davis. A spate of warm weather in early March got the trees going. A cool spell slowed them down, but pollen counts spiked again at the end of March and really went through the roof the week of April 11.
The good news is that tree pollen should be declining now, Davis said, especially after recent rains. But due to rainfall and warm weather in early April, grass pollen has gotten an early start, skyrocketing twice this month so far, according to NC Division of Air Quality measures taken in Raleigh.
“We’ve got the worst of both worlds,” Davis said.
Asheville allergies David Cypcar agreed. His health center used to collect pollen data for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Because of the extensive overlap in tree and grass pollen, late April and the month of May are always challenging,” he said.
He advises stocking up on allergy medications now because steroid nasal sprays, which work better than over-the-counter antihistamines, have to build up in your system.
This pollen season has been bad, right?
Sure — but no worse than usual.
“I can’t say that 2022 so far shakes out significantly different that prior allergy seasons,” Cypcar said.
Barden agreed. He’s based in Raleigh. “I think we’ve had worse seasons than this,” he said.
As of April 14, pollen.com had most of North Carolina ranked “high” for allergies, its top category. Asheville had it easier, ranked “medium-high” and people living around Pamlico Sound (though not, alas, in New Bern) could actually breathe through their noses.
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If it’s any consolation — we expect it won’t be — South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia were in worse shape April 14, with almost their entire states rated high for allergies on pollen.com.
The site is run by a commercial pollen-monitoring equipment company; the NC Division of Air Quality has found its data to be accurate, spokesman Shawn Taylor said.
Is rainfall good or bad for pollen allergies?
Good in the short term, bad in the medium term.
“The real fine, dusty pine pollen is so fine, so light, it’s easily suspended in the air,” Davis said. And there it stays. Until it rains. “Rain, it’s like the bouncer of the atmosphere.”
After the rain soaks in, however, plants spring up. That’s why Wilmington was hit so hard by pollen in mid-April, Davis said: After months of drought, it got 3 to 4 inches of rainfall. Rain has affected Asheville pollen as well. Though the region is cooler, it’s also been wetter.
Does all pollen cause equally bad allergies?
No. The famous dayglo-yellow-green loblolly pine pollen that coats our cars is not the worst for humans, Barden said. Hardwood pollen is worse because its grains are “more rough, much smaller,” he said. Which means that it gets in more places and it’s much more abrasive.
Davis plays it safe: “As an allergy sufferer myself, I try to avoid any tree that has pollen pouring off of it.”
Will eating local honey help your allergies?
Sluck all the honey sticks you want … between sneezes. The thinking is “that pollen on the surface of the bee somehow makes it into honey and that ingesting that honey will desensitize you,” Cypcar said. “But surface pollen on a honeybee is floral, and that kind of pollen doesn’t cause allergies. Myth busted!”
More:Honey, I bought some bees! Why I joined more than 15,000 beekeepers in NC
Am I old, or is pollen season getting worse?
We can’t speak to the former, but for the latter: Yes. “A study in 2021 found that the overall pollen season was already about 20 days longer in North America than it was in 1990 and pollen concentrations were up about 21 percent,” two University of Michigan researchers wrote in The Conversation, sharing findings they published in Nature Communications in March.
Is climate change making pollen worse?
Unfortunately, also yes.
The Michigan researchers project that pollen emission will increase 16 to 40 percent in the continental United States by the end of this century. That’s because warmer temperatures will “shift the start of spring emissions 10–40 days earlier and summer/fall weeds and grasses 5–15 days later and lengthen the season duration.”
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Moreover, increased carbon dioxide in the air increases both male flowers (which have the stamens … remember middle-school biology?) and their pollen.
“Plants feed off carbon dioxide,” Davis said.
Any silver lining?
“Pollen’s important,” Barden said. “The forest sector contributes $33 billion to our economy annually” — and that’s just in wood products such as lumber and paper, not the tourism industry.”
And of course trees clean the air. Which will be cleaner to breathe … once we can breathe again.
Danielle Dreilinger is a North Carolina storytelling reporter and author of The Secret History of Home Economics, out in paperback May 3. Her bees are trooping pollen into their hive. Contact Danielle at (919) 236-3141 or email@example.com.